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What to Do When You Feel Hopeless

Hopelessness is a terrible feeling. Whether you feel like drowning or endlessly tired, there comes a point when mounting stress reaches a boiling point, and it feels like there’s no way out. So what to do when you feel hopeless? While many people think of depression and depressive thoughts as a genetic or individual brain imbalance, the truth is much more complicated: depression and many other mental health issues are a matter of biopsychosocial factors, and chronic stress is one of the most significant contributors to feelings of mental fatigue and hopelessness

You don’t have to be diagnosed with a depressive disorder or a mood disorder to acknowledge your negative thoughts, either. Hopelessness is a sign that you need a break, and in many cases, you may need help. Hopelessness is a central characteristic of major depression, affecting an estimated 21 million adults, or about 8.4 percent of the US. Overcoming hopelessness begins through understanding that there is always hope – and knowing when to call for help. 

Talk to a Loved One

Life can be truly awful at times. People go through traumatic situations that reshape them forever. They experience things no one should. Yet time and time again, we hear stories about how people who go through these things survive against all odds, rediscover a love for life, and move on to lead inspiring and fulfilling lives. 

It can be challenging to recontextualize bad things into an opportunity for growth or a stepping stone towards a better future, especially when they’ve just happened. It can also feel condescending or demeaning to try and transform a tragic event into a “learning opportunity”. But drowning in despair alone is no way to promote healing or recovery. No matter how much something hurts, to let it heal, we need to get help. Calling a loved one or talking to a friend can help you navigate a way out of a pocket of hopelessness, whether it’s something triggered by your circumstances, a specific event or experience, or nothing at all (feelings of hopelessness can occur without reason when depressed). 

Pick Hopeful Music

This might seem like shallow advice, but for many people, music is a powerful modality tool that has an immediate and effective impact on our mood and mental health. Studies show that music can play a therapeutic role, especially in times of hopelessness or darkness, putting on the right kind of music can give you a moment of reprieve, and put your mind at ease. 

Consider putting together a playlist of your favorite upbeat or uplifting music in your own time, for times like these. You could store it on your phone or computer or create the playlist on platforms like Spotify or YouTube, so you could access it from your account wherever you are without needing to retrieve a specific device. 

Start Putting Your Thoughts to Paper

Journaling is another useful coping mechanism to work through negative thoughts, even powerful ones like feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Journaling can be structured, especially if you struggle with ruminating thoughts, or find yourself drifting off with your line of thinking. If you aren’t sure what to write about, consider the following writing prompts

  • Put to paper what your day was like, beginning with your morning. 
  • Put to words your greatest current worry, and list things you’ve tried to overcome or cope with said worry, as well as things you can still try. 
  • Create a to-do list for the next day, prioritizing ways in which you might be able to brighten the day for yourself just a little bit (your favorite thing to eat after work, your favorite tea, a show you haven’t watched in a long time, a friend you might want to catch up with). 
  • Talk about your favorite self-care activity and determine when you might be able to devote some time to it again. 
  • Write about something that makes you angry, or something that has made you mad in the last few days, and consider a few ways you might be able to redirect that angry energy towards something good (protesting, volunteer work on the weekend, etc.)
  • Name at least two things you feel grateful for at the moment – whether it’s your health, a friend, your family, the weather, your pets, or anything else – and explain why. 

Journaling seems like little more than writing to yourself – but by doing so, you begin to confront your thought processes, reorganize and recontextualize errant thoughts, and even become more in-tune with, and in-control of the things you think, and how they develop in your mind. Journaling is a powerful introspective tool, and a very useful therapeutic method, as it can help you identify the ways you’re harming yourself with your won thought processes. – and give yourself an avenue to explore those thoughts and counteract them with thoughts of gratitude, plans for a better tomorrow, and things that made you happy. 

Get An Immediate Change of Scenery

Few of us are in the privileged position to take a vacation or even plan a weekend drive out-of-state, but there are different low-cost ways you can nab a quick change of scenery, whether that’s heading out to a park you haven’t been to in a while, visiting a tourist attraction in your city or region, or checking out a trail you haven’t explored yet. You could also pick a different place to get your morning coffee or take a different route to and from work. Whatever you decide to do, it’s essential to get out of your house, and away from your current routine or rhythm for just a few hours. 

Go For a Long Walk

Speaking of getting away from your routine, another way to break the rut and confront negative feelings like hopelessness is to take a long walk. It’s not a trek or a run – you don’t have to hike up a mountain or enroll in a marathon. But walking – even around the block for half an hour or so – can be beneficial for eliminating ruminative thoughts and gaining a fresh perspective. Like journaling, it’s an excellent tool for introspection, especially the positive kind. 

Seek Professional Help

Seek professional help when you don’t know what to do when you Feel Hopeless. Hopelessness isn’t always a sign of depression – it can be circumstantial and pass with time. Many of these coping mechanisms are built to help you think your way out of a bout of hopelessness or feel better. But in some cases, hopelessness doesn’t go away quite so quickly. If you’ve been struggling with thoughts of hopelessness for multiple weeks, consider professional help. A diagnosis and treatment plan for a depressive disorder could help you feel better and overcome negative thoughts in the long term. 

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