Ask the Therapist

Question: “I’ve been feeling more anxious, tired and depressed lately. Do you have any tips on how to remain hopeful in uncertain times?” 

Dear Reader, I am hearing you. And although each person experiences the impact of stress and uncertainty differently, I don’t believe you are alone in what you are feeling. It goes without saying that this year has been a tremendous trial of will and surrender as we face challenges we perhaps haven’t been faced with before or are awakening to conversations and reflections that would touch us to the core. If you are feeling the pressure of it all, it means you are human. So, my first bit of advice is not to judge yourself for struggling right now. And if you ever feel like you might be in despair enough that you have been feeling in danger to yourself or another person, please seek help immediately. Suicidal thoughts are not necessarily uncommon, especially in times like these, but it is especially important to seek support from a professional to help sort out what might be serious enough to need immediate attention. 

Before moving forward, I also want to note that symptoms of anxiety, depression and fatigue can be related to other issues. I recommend that you to consult your physician to rule out anything else that might be going on physically in addition to trying out some of the following techniques to enhance hope and wellbeing in times such as these. 

I do wonder how much of what is being felt even deeper underneath the symptoms of depression, anxiety and tiredness is grief. There is a loss of what was and a loss of ignorance. Really no one, any longer, can go about life without really recognizing the impact of greed and convenience over compassion and unity. Our Earth is speaking, our communities are shouting, and the dysfunction of our current systems are oozing from every corner. It is time for change and the pressure point is at an all-time high. 

One of the teachers I highly recommend reading and studying is Jack Kornfield. He wrote a beautiful letter that he wrote during the initial stages of the pandemic and inspired my response to your question today. In it he states, 

“We have a choice. Epidemics, like earthquakes, tornadoes, and floods, are part of the cycle of life on planet Earth. How will we respond? With greed, hatred, fear, and ignorance? This only brings more suffering. Or with generosity, clarity, steadiness, and love? This is the time for love.” 

In immense doubt, despair, and hopelessness, there can be agitation and a sense of being hijacked by the overwhelm of the world around us. There seems to always be quick acting medicine in service and action. 

To help counteract the heavy submission of powerlessness there is service. Even in my own grief work, creating meaning and finding a sense of purpose for the loss and pain helped alleviate some of the suffering amidst it. Service and action do not always have to be loud ways of injecting your hands, heart and voice into the world (although it absolutely can), but rather some of the most potent shifts have occurred when people access the small, minute and sometimes unseen ways to be kind, compassionate and loving to the immediate world around you. 

Picking up a plastic bottle off the side of the road, planting a flower in the name of someone you love, donating $5 to a worthy cause can be profound ways of fueling hope into our hearts. Offering yourself some love is also an act of service. Service to others can quickly become just another thing that exhausts you if your cup isn’t also being filled. When I have found myself more overwhelmed with my kids’ requests in the morning, I realized that I was working from a deficit. So now I have made the conscious attempt to go to bed early (even though I like staying up late) just so I can wake early and fill my own “love bucket” before filling theirs. And now I have found myself enjoying the dark mornings just as I loved the dark nights, but this time I feel like I am being fueled instead of emptied. 

Being of service and filling ourselves up with loving kindness takes a great sense of awareness; a keen understanding as to what is depleting versus nourishing our bodies, minds, and hearts. I want to also be clear here, it is important not to close our eyes to what is happening in our world. We must find a way to stay engaged for the highest and best good of the world AND set limits for our own highest and best good. We cannot sustain without finding a balance. It is a dance for me that I am always weaving, and it is normal to find yourself dipping into exhaustion and clarifying what is needed at the time. Remain vigilant of what your body is trying to say. Take breaks when you need them and when you are refueled return to the front lines of action and change that are being asked of us. Have those hard conversations, volunteer and speak your truth and be quiet in reflection, rest and reignite your WHY? 

Which comes to the next quote I would like to share from Jack Kornfield’s letter: 

“Time to renew your vow. Sit quietly again and ask your heart: what is my best intention, my most noble aspiration for this difficult time? Your heart will answer. Let this vow become your North Star. Whenever you feel lost, remember and it will remind you what matters.” 

Sit quietly with your breath and perhaps even begin a journal. When I see people doing hard things, there is a common thread beneath their successes. It always seems they have a real passionate reason behind their motivation and drive to move forward in their pursuits. When you really want to give up, what will keep you taking it one step, one breath at a time? Meditate on that for as long as you need, even if finding your why is your why. 

There are also real, tangible skills that I would recommend you take up as habits to ensure overall health and wellbeing. Just a few of these include meditation, gentle exercise, engaging in some form of social support and getting out in nature. Also, please do not hesitate to reach out to a professional to help guide you during this time. 

“When a baby is born our first response is love. When a dear one dies, the hand we hold is a gesture of love. Timeless love and awareness are who you are. Trust it.” – Jack Kornfield 

Citation: Jack, K. (2020, March 25). The Bodhisattva Response to Coronavirus. Retrieved October 01, 2020, from

By Jackie Paulson

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