Our Center is housed at Duke University and for those of us in Durham, North Carolina, this week marks three full months of being under a “Stay-At-Home-Order”. This pandemic has been hard for those on the frontlines of health care, brought new challenges for academic professionals and students who completed the spring semester virtually and created sadness and financial stress for those who have become unemployed.
GWHT Staff Assistant, Alexandria Da Ponte, reached out to GWHT collaborator and expert in mental health, Dr. Rae-Jean Proeschold Bell, Associate Research Professor of Global Health. Their conversation was incredibly encouraging and today we want to share the highlights of that conversation as we all seek ways to be hopeful.
I would start with emotions, emotions are always really important. Now so more than ever. When we first started thinking about the virus maybe some of us, or at least I, thought this would maybe be a month, but the finish line keeps changing. That is really challenging to us, because as we try to manage emotions we see the finish line as being close, and every time it gets moved, we’re going to be frustrated or disappointed.
From an emotional perspective, I would encourage people to see the finish line as quite distant from now - about six months or nine months.
While that may be painful to hear and anxiety-inducing on the front end, go ahead and set expectations that way…the same way you would when you go to a movie with low expectations and then allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised.
My other suggestion would be to keep track of the things you are grateful for. Gratitude has been shown over and over again to loosen up negative emotions, and it kinda paves the way. It’s got to be genuine, you can’t pretend to be grateful for something that you are not. I encourage everyone to make a list of things that you are grateful for.
When you think about what you are missing, maybe you can also point to what is new and different and something that can still be done now.”
Dr. Preschould-Bell started by explaining to us what she means by wills and ways.
Wills are your values and what you are living for. If someone if given a scary health diagnosis — for example, if someone is given a diagnosis of cervical cancer — your will to live immediately surfaces. After receiving a scary diagnosis, some might wonder, why am I living? One’s will might bring them to say… I am living for family. Maybe you haven’t attained a goal yet. Whatever you feel like you are missing — that is your will.
Dr. Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell shares an exercise of hope in this 10-minute video, and talks about why behaviors matter so much during pandemics.
The way is the means of obtaining your will. Now this is an interesting time to figure out a way. Usually if there is a problem we can talk to other people who have been through it and listen to their wise advice. Right now with COVID-19 we do not have that. Most of us are trying to make sense of this all at the same time.
So what can we best to do to look to the ways? One thing we can do is look back to history. What I found is that humans have been living with epidemics and pandemics forever; it hasn’t only happened in my life. The idea of quarantining and self-quarantining is age-old. In these times, people have often found other ways to be together.
In 1666, England had a couple plague cases and the residents there quarantined together in order to avoid spreading the plague. However, they still found ways to come together, whether politically or religiously. They stood 6 feet apart. For me it is important to remember that humans have done this before and that there are strategies that we can adopt right now.
On a larger level, there’s hope and positive emotion, as well as negative emotions like fear. Fear can be very real. We are fearful of working from home, losing a job, or getting sick from COVID-19, whether that be ourselves or the people we love.
I’ve been thinking about a quote by Army General Stanley A. McChrystal, ‘People can handle bad and frightening news if it is put in context for them and they believe that it is accurate. People cannot handle things being hidden.’
So it is really time for transparency.
General McChrystal suggests that we encourage people to respect the difficulties that are going on. To not minimize the situation, but to remember that this is a big deal. And then you don’t necessarily need to say this is how we will win or come through — but we do need to think about the steps we are taking now and the steps that we will need to take in order to come through this.
I do believe that with COVID-19, there are thousands and hundreds of thousand of people who are working very hard to ensure that our public health system is thinking about ways forward on a big scale.
If you can tamp down the fear a little bit, that will allow room for positive emotions to come through. Again, it’s always good to start with gratitude.
How do you remain hopeful, I think its two things:
I think you need to communicate.
I think you take small actions.
We will start to distrust each other if we all stay at home and do not talk to each other. We should do anything to talk to other people, to organize our neighborhoods, organize and reconnect with the groups that we used to naturally intersect with. Create a space to talk about the difficult things that are occurring.
I think if you can, do one small thing — whether it is donating food for a food ministry, organizing a shelter drives for people who do not have homes, helping with ways to vote in November, or organizing ways to get belongings for people to create a home. Do anything concrete, even if it is very small.
Dr. Preschould-Bell wants us to remember that there is hope, and that this hope comes from our behaviors. She encourages us to do things such as communicate, take small actions and practice gratitude to maintain hope in our lives. We hope that you can remain hopeful during these unprecedented times.
We encourage you to check out the resources below as we all seek to remain hopeful. Duke Counseling and Psychological Services.