Because of the pandemic, the future feels difficult and uncertain. Beyond doing our best to keep ourselves and those around us safe, very few of us have much control over it. Gallup survey data shows that pessimism about the future of the pandemic in the U.S. is rising. This is infecting our general outlook:
“I wake up every day with nothing to look forward to,” a friend recently confessed to me. “I feel like staying in bed.”

Having a sense of low personal control links up with adverse economic circumstances to cause poor health and impaired emotional functioning. What do we do when we are in the middle of a pandemic and the winter months are quickly approaching? Plan ahead for one. When we are mindful of our situation and can take control of how we are going to approach the challenges, we reassert control.

Here’s a couple ways you can plan ahead and implement actions to counter feelings of hopelessness.

Channel your inner lawyer

Pessimism generally distorts reality. Seligman and others recommend that pessimists combat their tendency to expect the worst by employing what they call a disputing technique — verbalizing negative assumptions we are making about the future, and then disputing them with realistic facts.

Here’s an example: I teach at a college, and something I love is spending time with students in the classroom. It gives me energy and joy. Due to the coronavirus, all classes are online; I teach my classes in front of a camera in my makeshift video studio (living room). I see my students in their little squares on Zoom, but it isn’t the same as seeing their smiles in person. I miss the energy of the group fitness class.

The other day I found myself darkly musing that I would likely never go back to work in person; that this would be my new normal, forever. This pessimism, fueled by news stories I’ve read with titles like “Will the Coronavirus Forever Alter the College Experience?,” (NY Times)  is completely unwarranted in my school’s case. So I disputed it with the facts. We are, in fact, creating hybrid classes, and planning for an in-person future. There’s a good chance I’ll be back in the classroom by next fall. My odd work situation is tedious, but temporary.

Most likely, your future is also brighter than what you may think at your darkest moments, so dispute your pessimism not with mindless optimism, but with facts. Build a solid case for something other than the worst-case scenario and argue it to yourself like a lawyer. And while you’re at it, read fewer stories about the pandemic. You probably aren’t learning anything new, but, rather, just trying to get a bit more certainty about the future, which is impossible.

Turn constraints into decisions

I have read that most people that are working from home are working longer hours. We don’t have our commutes anymore and we are in close proximity to our computers, so why not? I know that I have at least doubled if not tripled my work hours since the shelter in place began. I have to make a schedule and stick to it, not wander over to the computer and start editing videos. My definition of being productive has changed.

In 2018, according to a survey from the U.S. Travel Association, 55 percent of American workers did not use all their paid vacation, amounting to 768 million unused days. And when they do take vacation, 54 percent say they feel guilty about it.

Instead of working more, I suggest spending more quality time with our loved ones, reading more, beginning a hobby, taking up meditation, or finding other ways to take care of ourselves that we never had time to incorporate before the pandemic began. This will help us all in the long run by establishing healthier habits and creating a happier life.

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More Resources

National Library of Medicine: Pessimistic explanatory style is a risk factor for physical illness: a thirty-five-year longitudinal study:

Poor Health from Pessimism

The Atlantic:

America’s Growing Pessimism