Men are more optimistic than women about a return to normal by the end of 2021, survey finds

It's been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and more than a few people are looking forward to the day when life will return to normal. But, given just how long this has lasted, it's understandable that hopefulness is a tough emotion to rally these days.

A new Yahoo/YouGov survey confirms it. The survey, which polled people ages 18 to over 65, of different races, income levels and political ideologies, found that people are pretty split on feeling hopeful about a return to normalcy by the end of 2021. In fact, just 50 percent said they anticipate things will be normal again before the end of the year.

But there was a clear difference between the feelings of men and women: While 57 percent of men felt hopeful that normalcy is coming soon, just 44 percent of women felt the same way. Age also seems to play a role. When broken down by age, less than 50 percent of most groups felt hopeful, while 58 percent of the 65+ age group felt the same way.

It seems surprising to have such a large difference in optimism between men and women, but mental health experts aren't shocked. "It's completely consistent with a really robust body of literature that shows women are much more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression than men," Lily Brown, director of research at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. "That can translate to a pessimistic outlook and worry about future."

It's hard to say exactly why this happens, but psychologist John Mayer, creator of the podcast Anxiety's a B!tch, tells Yahoo Life that it could be an evolutionary response. "Generally, men tend to be more idealistically looking toward the future. This tendency is instinctually tied to their evolutionary roles as hunter/gatherers," he says. "They have to be optimistic to keep pressing on for the next 'catch.'"

But women "tend to be more pragmatic" about the future, "focusing on what they see in front of them," Mayer says.

The limitations on everyday life from the pandemic have hit working moms especially hard, Craig Smith, associate professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, tells Yahoo Life. And, he points out, "data from multiple sources indicate that the economic burdens associated with the pandemic have also fallen disproportionately on women."

African woman wearing protective face mask buying grocery at a supermarket. Female customer shopping at a local grocery store.
A new Yahoo/YouGov survey, which polled people ages 18 to over 65, of different races, income levels and political ideologies, found that people are pretty split on feeling hopeful about a return to normalcy by the end of 2021. (Photo: Getty Images)

These women "probably want a return to normality more than anyone else, but perhaps self-defensively can't quite bring themselves to believe or hope that it is almost here," Smith says.

Women also tend to be more detail-oriented and may focus on the details of getting back to normal — and how long that could take, Ken Yeager, director of the Stress, Trauma and Resilience (STAR) program at The Ohio State University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, tells Yahoo Life. "It seems reasonable to think that men may apply a less critical way of reasoning through the reopening process, thinking less about the details of the process of reopening," he says.

As for the age difference in optimism, Smith points out that those in the 65+ age group have had access to the COVID-19 vaccine for a while. "For those who believe in the efficacy of the vaccine — and I strongly believe they should — this in itself is a huge factor for optimism," he says. "Those who have taken the vaccine have taken a large, active step toward the normalcy we seek."

If you're struggling to feel hopeful about a return to normalcy, there are a few things you can do. Getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times per week, meditating and talking to loved ones can help, Dr. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine and host of the How Can I Help? podcast from iHeartRadio, tells Yahoo Life. "Doing things to boost your mood may help you also to feel more hopeful," she says.

But, if you find that you're regularly struggling with feelings of hopelessness, they're accompanied by feelings of sadness, they're interfering with your work and relationships and they're persisting for more than two weeks, Saltz says it's time to talk to a mental health counselor.

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