Hopelessness can be debilitating. After all, the word literally means “without hope.” And while there are countless reasons why one may feel desolate and despondent—including grief, unhappiness at work, or health-related issues—according to Dr. Emily Eckstein, a family therapist at Beach House Treatment Center in Malibu, California, the symptoms look (more or less) the same. “You may feel alone, stuck, unable to function… or tearful and sad.” Sometimes hopelessness causes you to “shut down,” and it can affect your personal and professional life. It can even impact your ability to complete simple daily tasks. The good news is it’s not a permanent state. You can overcome these thoughts of hopelessness. Here’s how.
Understand what hopelessness is
While hopelessness can be quite complex, at its core, “it’s the belief or feeling that a difficult situation will never get better,” Dr. Tamara D’Anjou Turner, a licensed, Atlanta-based psychologist, says. “It usually results from repeatedly experiencing or witnessing negative situations and not seeing them improve.” However, that is not the only cause.
“Our mood naturally shifts throughout the day depending on situations, energy levels, the amount of sleep we had the night before, hormones, and stressors,” Eckstein explains. “This is normal. That said, feelings of hopelessness can also be a manifestation of something bigger, such as diagnosable depression or anxiety.”
Talk to a peer or loved one about your feelings
It can be tough to speak to friends and family about what you’re going through, particularly if you don’t know how to verbalize your thoughts, i.e. “I’m sad but there’s no reason. I feel lost, but I don’t know why.” However, according to Dr. Anna Hiatt Nicholaides, a licensed clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania, the best thing you can do for yourself is to try. “Friends and family are often good at finding the silver lining of a situation.”
Since hopelessness can be caused by countless circumstances and situations, it’s important you recognize what you can and cannot do. In most cases, hopelessness will not disappear on its own. However, peer and professional support can help. Joining a group can also be helpful, as finding people who share similar interests may spur new friendships and reignite lost passions. Nicholaides also suggests volunteering. “Not only is volunteering a great way to make friends, but putting your care into the community makes you feel like you matter, and you’re not alone…this is where hope lies. In the ability to make a difference.”
That said, some feelings of hopelessness are more complex than others. “If hopelessness is situational, it can be harder to rectify,” Nicholaides explains. “In the example of being hopeless at work, sometimes the only way to start feeling hope about your prospect of finding a new job is to…find a job.” Hate your current office situation? This guide should help.
Set small, tangible goals
Instead of trying to move forward and fix everything at once, you should focus on setting reasonable, incremental goals. “Break tasks down into small doable chunks,” author and life coach Kristin A. Meekhof says. Make a checklist, if helpful—and be flexible. “This will not only create progress,” Meekoff explains, “but will add to your confidence, and any increase in confidence will decrease the intensity of the hopelessness.”
Practice empathy and self-care
It may seem strange to suggest taking a bubble bath or shower, but due to the intense and progressive nature of hopeless thoughts, these little acts can go a long way. “Start by practicing self-care, such as doing a face mask. Also, consider taking a walk, while trying to appreciate the beauty around you,” Andrea Arlington, a relationship coach and the founder of Families United for Recover, says. Another tip?“Try meditation. Also, write down three things every night that you are grateful for.” Rest is also important. A good night’s sleep can go a long way.
Consider seeking professional help
“A well-trained therapist can imbue hope into one’s life just by believing when the client cannot,” Nicholaides explains. If hopelessness seems global and related to all of life, there might be a biological cause. This would necessitate a psychiatric consultation and possibly psychopharmacological intervention.” But even in these instances, change can occur.
That said, if you’ve changed your habits and behaviors and still cannot shake the numbness, emptiness, and loss you are feeling, or if you are having suicidal thoughts, you should contact a medical professional immediately because, in spite of your thoughts, there is help. There is hope.
For more information about mental health programs and resources, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text “START” to 741-741 to immediately speak to a trained counselor at Crisis Text Line.