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Finding hope

Finding hope
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No one could have predicted how distressing and downright awful the past few months have been. The health anxiety of Covid-19, the financial insecurity millions of people worldwide are now facing, the racial trauma being navigated, not to mention the slow recovery from the Australian bushfires and other worldwide natural disasters are just the most obvious things people are coping with every single day. It’s hard enough to deal with one of those things, but when there are so many upsetting and stressful things happening at once? It’s pretty difficult to stay optimistic about anything.

To help you find healthy ways to cope, we asked therapists to share their best tips for finding hope in difficult times – specifically, in the middle of a pandemic and a social justice movement.

Take time to breathe

Take time to breathe
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“When you’re stressed or anxious, your breathing can get irregular, and shallow breath affects our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which can make us feel anxious and negative,” says Roseann Capanna-Hodge, an integrative and paediatric mental health expert. Breathing deeply and intentionally calms down the nervous system, which tempers the stress response in the body that makes us feel anxious and unsettled. Capanna-Hodge suggests trying the 4-7-8 breathing technique – simply breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and then exhale for 8 seconds. This rhythmic breathing is great for calming down your body and brain.

Here are more ways to cope when the world seems like a horrible place. 

Find a cause to rally behind

Find a cause to rally behind
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Taking action against injustice, in whatever way you can, is a great way to be fully present and reignite a sense of hope. LaQuista Erinna, a licensed clinical social worker, suggests finding a cause to rally behind. This can help you feel more in control of what’s going on around you, and hopeful that change will happen. “In particular, black people have found a renewed sense of purpose by participating in protests, advocating for change and demanding equality,” Erinna says. “Many white allies have taken the time to recognise their privilege and have taken action by showing up in meaningful ways for those who are less privileged.”

Lean on your support system

Lean on your support system
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“Collectively, we are all going through unprecedented times of uncertainty and trauma,” says Erinna. Talk to the people who you trust, and let them know how you’re feeling. “You may find that you are not alone in how you are feeling and can find some sense of solace by leaning on your support system.”

It can also help to simply reach out to others and ask them how they find hope during these times, says Kathleen Murphy, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “You can even ask that question of social media and inspire others to look within and share what works for them. It can feel so good and hopeful knowing that you have prompted a search that brings hope and possibilities to others.”

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Move your body

Move your body
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The power of exercise as a tried-and-true stress reliever cannot be understated. “Movement is an excellent grounding technique for self-regulation and can help to clear an activated fight-flight-freeze response,” Erinna says. Moving your body – even if it’s just going for a walk or changing positions throughout the day so you’re not just sitting still all the time – is a great way to calm down and refocus your mental energy.

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Schedule “worry time”

Schedule “worry time”
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Annie Miller, a psychotherapist in private practice, suggests consistently setting a specific time each day to watch the news and let yourself worry. “Acknowledge anything you are worried about and make plans for addressing any issues,” Miller says. “Choose a time that is far enough away from your bedtime so that your brain has time to settle before you go to bed.” Once “worry time” is over, try to put the stressful things aside and remind yourself that it’s no longer time to focus on them. “Scheduling worry time in this way trains your brain to have a contained time to think about difficult things. This may lead to lower stress levels,” Miller says.

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Set personal and professional boundaries

Set personal and professional boundaries
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To give yourself space to cope with everything, Siobhan D. Flowers, a licensed psychotherapist, suggests setting boundaries around what you will allow yourself to talk about and have access to. “Place limits on the amount of information you are consuming and be selective about what news sources and social media outlets you engage with,” says Flowers. Picking your battles, disconnecting and reserving your emotional labour for the tasks you truly want to put effort towards is a form of self-care, she adds.

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Spend time in nature

Spend time in nature
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Nature has the power to completely transform our minds and souls, says Renee Exelbert, a psychologist. “It creates a sense of stillness, wholeness, calm and beauty. Nature and its bounty are a testament to all the storms that have come before us. We find the trees still standing, and the canyons richer and deeper, from these storms,” Exelbert says. In fact, an April 2019 study published in the Frontiers in Psychology suggests it takes just 20 minutes of nature time to noticeably reduce stress hormone levels.

Actively practise positivity

Actively practise positivity
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“It is a lot more work to focus on positive things and it takes practice,” says Miller. “Our brains are wired to protect us from danger and have an inherent negativity bias and are thus more attracted to troubling information.” To pull yourself out of the negativity, actively practise finding something positive to focus on.” What’s something you’re looking forward to? What are you grateful for today? Capanna-Hodge suggests visualising something that’s relaxing, like a walk on the beach, to foster positive feelings. “See yourself there and feel yourself there; bring in those sensory elements. Taking a few minutes every day to practise seeing the positive has an incredibly positive effect on your mood and behaviour,” she says.

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Make time for self-care

Make time for self-care
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“Placing self-care as a priority is not a ‘selfish’ thing to do, especially during these difficult times,” Flowers says. “Disconnecting and taking a break to recentre yourself is a form of self-preservation that is much needed for your own long-term sustainability in avoiding burnout. Give yourself permission to take a much-needed break if you need to,” she says. Taking time every day to care for our brain and bodies helps us to ground, connect and stay positive, which ultimately improves our outlook and overall well-being, says Capanna-Hodge.

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Please be advised that due to the current lockdown in the Philippines, we hope to have the April print issue available by the middle of July, and the May, June and July issues available by the end of July, but this is dependent on when local lockdown restrictions are lifted. We sincerely apologise for this inconvenience. Thank you and stay safe!
– The Reader’s Digest team