Dealing with an uncertain future can be overwhelming, but we can plan for a post-crisis life.
Posted in , Apr 28, 2020
Most of us are living through unprecedented changes in our lives, with schools and businesses shut down in response to the Covid-19 virus. During these days of social distancing, we often need to focus on day-to-day needs. Even if there is time to imagine the future, it can be hard to do so.
“The uncertainty is scary,” said Dr. Lea Waters, a positive psychology expert. “Thinking about, and taking steps to create, a positive future is vitally important.”
Dr. Waters is the founding director of the Centre for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne, and the author of The Strength Switch. She turns her science and research into strength-based strategies to help organizations, educators and parents build resilience in their employees and children.
She talked with Guideposts.org about the practical steps we can take to nurture our dreams for our lives after this crisis has passed.
1. Use hope to cope
One of the biggest things people are struggling with during the pandemic is feeling stuck in the difficult present and afraid to look to the future. This is where hope comes in: Hope pulls us into the future, Dr. Waters explained, and, by doing so, helps us cope better with the present circumstances. “Allowing yourself to hope doesn’t mean you’re ignoring or whitewashing the hardship we’re going through,” Dr. Waters said, “but that you’re attempting to rise above it and give yourself the motivation to move forward.”
Recent studies show that hope leads us to maximize psychological adjustment by reducing anxiety, increasing motivation, and helping us pursue goal-directed actions. “All of these are outcomes we need to cope right now,” Dr. Waters said.
2. Dare to dream big
According to Dr. Waters, it’s crucial to your emotional well-being to continue planning and dreaming for the future, even when that future looks uncertain. She suggests making bucket lists of things you’ve always wanted to do or accomplish. “Suspend your reality for the moment, and allow yourself to feel happy about this imagined future,” said Dr. Waters. “Later, you can focus on mundane realities like budget, but for now just let your brain dream.”
Envision the items on your list in detail and take the time to research the best courses of action. For that long-awaited trip, tap into the wealth of online videos, brochures and itineraries for your desired destination. Or for that redecoration project, get ideas from catalogues, decorating websites and Pinterest.
3. Dare to dream small
On a smaller scale, make plans with friends to meet for a walk or to go for dinner at your favorite restaurant when the all-clear’s sounded. Think of outings you and your loved ones can look forward to, movies or sporting events or even trips to the mall. There's no need to try to pin down when these things might happen. Positive anticipation can be almost as rewarding as the events themselves.
4. Consider making changes
Use this time of isolation and sheltering-in-place as an opportunity to reflect on any changes you’d like to make in your life. For example, many people are reinvesting in relationships or spending more time with family. “My own family is thinking about how we can restructure our previously hectic lives to intentionally make things slower once the pandemic has passed,” Dr. Waters said. Once you decide what changes would be beneficial, come up with specific steps you can take to enact them when the time is right. You can always adapt your plans as the situation continues to evolve.
5. Look for the silver linings
Even the worst of times usually bring with them some unexpected blessings, and you don’t need to be a Pollyanna to see them. Maybe you’re learning to budget better or to be happier with less. Maybe you’re seeing the benefits of getting back to basics. Whatever it is, acknowledge the new shift and be grateful.
“Because the whole world is going through this together,” Dr. Waters said, “I believe the silver lining is the collective compassion, kindness, sense of connection and common humanity we are feeling towards each other.”