Hope or Despair? Optimism and Pessimism in the Face of the Pandemic
By: Chloe Cho, Contributing Writer
*Readers’ Note: All COVID-related information is to-date as of December 19, 2020*
Pandemic life has felt not like a fever dream, but a fever nightmare. As of December 19, 2020, there were over 76 million cases worldwide and over 1.6 million deaths. The days since March have blurred into one another in the same mundane fashion, and it’s hard to believe it has almost been one year since the first official report of the virus. It doesn’t seem like it’s going to get any better, either. Certain people have ignored the significance of the virus, including influential individuals such as U.S. President Donald Trump. The idle and ineffective federal government responses across the globe have not done an adequate job in protecting people from the virus; the peak of daily new cases, almost 740,000 cases, was reported on December 17, 2020. Although the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have started to be distributed, we don’t know if this is a perfect solution. We don’t know how many more lives will be lost before the virus dissipates. We don’t know what life after the pandemic will be like. Is it worth it to hold onto hope, or should we give up?
A type of pessimism called defensive pessimism may prove to be beneficial in the context of this pandemic. Defensive pessimists focus on the bleak prospects of an event and accordingly plan for them. They develop more strategies and often take more caution in their actions, which can lower the risk of injury or other harmful effects. Furthermore, since they expect negative outcomes, they are prepared to deal with emotions like regret, anger, or sadness. Defensive pessimists can be equipped with coping and stress-reducing strategies, therefore stabilizing their mental state.
Individuals whose outlook on personal life is pessimistic may be negligent in tasks that require more effort, because they may believe that no matter what they do, their futures will not improve. This is especially alarming during the COVID-19 pandemic, as actions like social distancing and wearing a mask are not mandatory in many countries. These individuals may have a tendency to disregard these safety guidelines.
Contrarily, optimists are more likely to have better mental health than pessimists. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders are linked to negative thinking, and being optimistic can help dispel that thinking. Optimists also have a growth mindset, which is the belief that any goal can be reached with dedication and perseverance. This can be applied to reaching and maintaining peak physical health. In addition, a study found that optimists are twice as less likely to have heart disease than pessimists, and are at a lower risk for low blood pressure. The ability to remain hopeful in difficult times also reduces stress and anxiety, leading to lower rates of burnout and PTSD. According to another study, optimists also tend to have a higher-quality life because they are more likely to rebound from negative events, such as the loss of a loved one.
So let’s go back to the original question: To hope, or to give up? A study conducted during the pandemic found that if one had to choose, optimism would be the better choice for optimum mental health. Optimism about one’s personal life can increase mental and coping flexibility, reduce coronavirus stress, and reduce the risk of psychological problems.
Rocketing levels of despair during the pandemic has shown up in many different factors. The National Emergency Medical Services Information System reported an increase from 2,000 calls per week in March and February 2019 to 5,000 calls per week in March and February 2020 for drug overdoses and deaths. In the same time period, calls for mental and behavioral problems increased from 35,000 to 45,000. Therefore, although most of the world is occupied with the physical consequences of COVID-19, it is equally as important to recognize the importance of mental health effects. Taking rest days, turning off the Internet, and taking some time to be grateful for everything around you may be a good way to start to see this crisis in a better light. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
Link to cover image: https://thefederal.com/file/2020/05/corona-split-01.jpg