How to gain more hope during hard times

Sure it was hard to find toilet paper, hand sanitizer or baker’s yeast throughout the pandemic. Looking for a new bicycle or major appliance? Bet you were out of luck. But for many individuals, the item in shortest supply over the past year has been what they needed the most — hope.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that unemployment rates have dropped, over ten million people are still jobless. Homelessness, food insecurity and eviction rates have increased nationwide. COVID-19cases are spiking and different regions are reverting back to stricter lockdowns to prevent hospitals from being overloaded. Tens of millions of kids are trying to learn remotely, cut off from social interaction and activities, while their parents are struggling with work and childcare challenges.

The challenging factors list above are reinforced in news headlines each day. But hearing it again and again can feel like a major bummer when you are so ready to move on. All of which can make hope feel elusive. However, you can do something about it.

“When we’re having a bad time, we tend to focus on that,” said Clinical Psychologist Dr. Richard Shuster, who explains that there is a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) that brings whatever you are focusing on, positive or negative, to the forefront of your awareness. “If we are dealing with adversity and what the potential negative outcomes may be, that’s where our brain is going to be pulling data from in our environment to support that belief system. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, even if it’s a transient stressor.”

Hoping for the best can help turn your situation around. Shuster advises looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, even when you don’t believe it is going to happen right away.

“From a hard-wiring perspective, hope is very important because it helps make a cognitive and emotional shift towards what could be a positive outcome,” he noted. “If that is what we focus on, the RAS is going to pull data that helps us become more creative in finding solutions to overcome the issues faced.”

Shuster practices what he preaches. He started a lucrative IT consulting business after college that became less fulfilling as it grew. Shuster was involved in a terrible car accident, suffering extensive injuries including a broken back. Healing over time, he went back to work. However, things were never the same. Shuster quit his job. He felt scared, miserable and stuck.

Within this difficult place, a glimmer of hope appeared as an idea popped into his mind. Perhaps he could use his extensive information technology knowledge to make a meaningful contribution to society. Shuster started collaborating with law enforcement agencies in promoting internet safety in schools and communities, speaking before numerous groups. He ended up obtaining a master’s degree in Social Work and then a doctorate in Clinical Psychology, multiplying his positive impact through training experiences that ranged from providing crisis intervention to students displaced by Hurricane Katrina to assessing NFL players as part of the league’s concussion protocol.

Spreading hope is now a daily occurrence for Shuster. He serves as the CEO of a MARS Industries, a psychological assessment company that helps people of all ages and backgrounds reach their true potential. A popular keynote speaker, he hosts The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Shuster: Food for the Brain, Knowledge from the experts, Tools to Win at Life® podcast, which is regularly downloaded in over 100 countries. He’s a dedicated husband and father. Shuster’s Every Kid Rocks non-profit also helps provide therapy services for kids in need.

As I write this, there is a lot of hope on the horizon. A number of COVID-19 vaccines are currently being reviewed by the FDA for immediate approval and inoculations just started for senior citizens in the United Kingdom living in nursing homes and their care givers. Businesses are starting to plan for millions of remote working employees to come back to offices, if they wish, when conditions are safer. We have found ways to stay connected with each other using technology, space heaters in public spaces as temperatures plummet and other ingenuity at work.

Focusing on what remains positive and better times ahead with help infuse you with more hope and well-being overall.

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