Lesley Alderman, LCSW, a New York-based psychotherapist, coined the term “hope fatigue” in a recent Washington Post article. She described it as “experiencing a deficit of optimism” and feeling overwhelmed about issues beyond our control.
Alderman attributed hope fatigue to the many “existential threats” we have collectively experienced over the past few years, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, racial tension, school violence, war and political unrest. Rising inflation, global economic uncertainty and natural disasters have added additional layers of insecurity worldwide.
Symptoms of hope fatigue vary among individuals but include anxiety, disengagement and feeling worn down. Like Alderman, therapists around the globe note that patients no longer have the bandwidth to keep up with current affairs and seem to feel inherently unsafe. Unchecked, hope fatigue can become chronic and lead to depression, anxiety and diminished fulfillment in life and relationships.
Alderman encouraged those feeling hope fatigue to mitigate the effects of the condition by practicing self-care. To start, she recommended taking breaks from the news and social media. By practicing mindfulness, those feeling hope fatigue can protect themselves from articles and images that trigger their symptoms.
Ashley Harp, LISW-CP, and Myra Brunson-Samuel, LISW-CP/S, LCSW, therapists based in the Greenville-Spartanburg area, agree.
“When new clients contact us at Pace to Peace Wellness Collective and we ask why they are seeking counseling, the answer, more often than not lately, is along the lines of ‘I really don’t know how to answer that. I’m just tired and I need help,’” Harp explained.
“We think that hope fatigue has a lot to do with this being a common answer because many people are consuming so much negative media with all that is happening in the world today in addition to their own personal life stressors,” Brunson-Samuel added. “It causes them to finally reach out for help in the form of therapy to sort out and make sense of their lives.”
Studies, like one done by the American Psychological Association in 2021, have shown that therapy referrals nearly doubled from 37% in 2020 to 62% in 2021, according to Harp and Brunson-Samuel.
“We believe this can be attributed to the pandemic and recent events in the country,” Brunson-Samuel explained.
“To help our clients cope with overwhelming and hopeless feelings,” Harp added, “one of our best recommendations is to ‘unplug’ and practice grounding exercises, which could include taking a walk on a nice day and utilizing the five senses to connect with the environment.”
Sharing disappointments, fears and hopes for the future with a trusted counselor can help people better understand their concerns and learn critical coping skills. While sometimes difficult, focusing on what one can control instead of what is happening on the other side of the country or the world also can be helpful.
Redirecting thoughts toward the positive and celebrating personal wins, no matter how small, can lift spirits and encourage people to move forward. Turning to faith, employing simple breathing exercises and practicing meditation also can help ease fears and achieve inner peace.
Finally, getting involved and making a difference locally is a great way to achieve a semblance of control and re-ignite feelings of optimism. Working alongside others to achieve a common goal is as important for our psychological well-being as it is for our communities.
“When we feel out of control, anxieties rise and fulfillment may crumble,” explained Courtney Chandler, art therapist, licensed professional counselor and founder of HeARTs for Hope in Greenville. “When we consider the multitude of hardships and trauma that our world is currently faced with that are outside of our individual control, we feel helpless, hopeless and small.”
“It’s important to know that we are not alone in these feelings, and we are capable of imparting change. It begins with self,” Chandler added. “I often encourage my clients to find – or create – meaningful ways to connect with and contribute to the community, as it can be remarkably empowering. Gathering together to make art, pray or meditate, dance or volunteer for local charitable causes can give a sense of agency over things that we can control, while engaging in joyful or fulfilling moments in life.”
The Serenity Prayer, attributed to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, is recited by many religions and has been used by Alcoholics Anonymous since 1941. Its message is simple; it asks a higher power – in this case God – to grant the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can change and the wisdom to know the difference.
The prayer serves as a reminder to focus on the blessings of everyday life and to revive hope no matter what comes our way.
By Isabel Alvarez Arata