November 2020 - Ask Dr. Darby Bonomi
Written by CRM
Friday, 30 October 2020 02:11

ask dr darby

Even optimists need strategies in prolonged tough times.

Dear Dr. Darby,
I’m an optimist by nature. These past few months, I have held onto the belief that the current pandemic, fires, and political divisiveness will ease up. This perspective, that things will soon improve, has helped me keep worldly worries at bay during my barn time. But now I’m feeling a sense of hopelessness that bleeds into my time with my horse, which has normally been such a refuge. How can I continue to compartmentalize these aspects of life, and should I? Is there a danger in suppressing these worries in order to enjoy my ride?
Thanks for your perspective,
—K.M., amateur rider, Orange County

Dear K,


Thanks for this beefy question. You, similar to many people, are losing that sense that everything will go back to ‘normal’ once the calendar turns on December 31. I have heard folks remark, ‘get me to 2021 fast,’ as if our current situation will magically transform in January. I think it’s safe to say that our troubles are staring us in the face, and we have a long way to go before they’re resolved.  We’re not ‘going back to the way things were.’ It’s abundantly clear that we have to change on many fronts.

Right now, as in other times in history, we as a society are faced with big tasks, challenges, and responsibilities. It can be overwhelming, to be sure. I am guessing your hopelessness and despair emerge when as you feel powerless to make things better and uncertain of the future.

Do our current societal challenges mean that we should no longer go to the barn, enjoy ourselves, and develop our riding? Absolutely not! If anything, we need our barn time and our horses more than ever. As I’ve often said, for us equestrians, the barn is a sanctuary—our meditative, restorative place. It’s important to keep it that way—for our mental health, our riding, and our relationship with our horses.

You ask if there is a danger in suppressing your worries in order to ride. My answer is that it’s imperative to have regular, reliable, relief from stress.

Consistent, long term exposure to high levels of stress, especially in which you feel helpless and hopeless, is detrimental to your mental health and your physical well-being—and it has a significant negative impact on your immune system. I highly recommend that you find ways to compartmentalize your worries, release physical and mental tension, and give yourself opportunities to be productive in your world.

Here are some strategies to get you started.
•    Set boundaries: Personally, I set boundaries around tasks and activities in order to help me be productive when I need to work, focus when I need to perform, and relax when I need to do that. Remember, time off is essential for productivity, so give yourself a break from worries too.
•    Lean into change: What you resist gets bigger and more powerful. If you’re feeling hopeless, you are likely resisting change rather than accepting the situation and figuring out to adapt and thrive under new conditions. Challenge yourself to see new opportunities for growth rather than putting your head in the sand waiting for the calendar to turn.
•    Be proactive, not reactive: Turn your mind to what you can do, rather than what you can’t. How can you make today a good day for yourself, your family, and your community? Productive people always turn their minds to what they can do to improve themselves or a situation.
•    Have compassion: it’s a stressful time. Let’s give ourselves and others a break. Even the strongest and most resilient among us sometimes feel off our game. If you’re feeling unsteady or down, give yourself some time to refuel. For us riders that might mean we need an extra afternoon at the barn!

Last, you mention you’re an optimist. Hang onto that quality! An optimist sees the opportunities in every situation. You, as a glass-half-full person, are needed right now more than ever. Look for the good in situations, such as the small pieces of progress or light. Maybe it’s the pony girl who just learned to canter, or the neighbor who brought over some cookies, or a kind gesture by a groom. What you focus on expands, so turn your mind to the new growth, the good, and the opportunities that present themselves now—and help others do the same.

If you have a question for performance psychologist Darby Bonomi, PhD., please submit it to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . You are welcome to ask a question anonymously, but please provide relevant background regarding your experience and other details that enable her to best answer your question.