You Don’t Have to Feel Hopeful

A therapist’s advice for how to stop spiraling in times of crisis

Kathleen Smith
Forge
Published in
5 min readOct 12, 2020

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Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

In a news cycle that seems to get darker by the day, hope — for a safe and effective Covid-19 vaccine, a smoothly run election, a functioning democracy, a widespread embrace of science — can seem naive at best, downright foolish at worst. Bracing for the worst can feel like the safest way to stop ourselves from adding crushing disappointment to an already sky-high pile of anxiety and grief.

A sense of hopelessness during a crisis, let alone multiple ongoing crises, is normal. It’s something I see often in my therapy patients — especially now, as the election looms and the country feels like it’s crumbling around us. But hopelessness is also dangerously contagious.

When despair spreads like a virus, it can be difficult for anyone to cling to their own agency through challenging times, contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy: Nothing gets better because no one believes it will. Fear that borders on fatalism can profoundly change the way we think and act. And allowing ourselves to surrender to it isn’t just ineffective. It’s selfish.

So how do we move past this kind of hopeless fear and begin to feel like we actually have control over our future?

Don’t shut down and don’t attack

I often remind my clients that anxiety is fear at work. And when you’re afraid, you develop a kind of tunnel vision. You search out evidence that confirms your worst fears, and you block out information that doesn’t.

This can make you increasingly paranoid and reactive, or it can leave you paralyzed with hopelessness. You attack, or you shut down. Fight or flight.

These aren’t particularly creative responses to complex problems. But they are our evolutionary heritage, and it can be difficult to rise above these automatic reactions.

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Kathleen Smith
Forge
Writer for

Kathleen Smith is a therapist and author of the book Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down.