This article was written by Matt Berry and published by American Addiction Centers
Hopelessness is a terrible feeling. Not only is it a powerfully defeating emotion, hopelessness changes our perception. When we feel hopeless, it’s difficult to perceive the prospect of improving our present circumstances, our future, our relationships, or society writ large. We may lose interest in things we once valued, such as our favorite activities and important relationships. We may increasingly feel powerless, isolated, and abandoned. Without hope, we lose our ability to imagine the sun behind the clouds, focusing solely on the rain and the storm’s perceived permanency.
While it’s not easy, as life can be overwhelming, painful, and truly unfair, finding hope during difficult times is possible. We’ve all felt hopeless before, whether it was because of a passing situation or a hard-to-overcome circumstance. Hopelessness is also a symptom of many diagnosable mental and behavioral health disorders, such as depression, bipolar, eating disorders, and substance abuse disorders.
In fact, feelings of hopelessness can actually be measured through the Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS), which is used to assess suicide risks. The simple 20-question test addresses feelings about future outlook, current motivations, and a person’s expectations. Once we understand that hopelessness may be conditional, a universally recognized feeling, and measurable, we can start to believe – even when it’s hard – that we’ll be able to identify and overcome feelings of hopelessness. Listing are a few mays to search for hope, even when it’s hard to find.
Understand irrational thoughts.
Our minds are powerful (very powerful), which isn’t always helpful. When we feel hopeless, we create or entertain more hopeless thoughts. In this type of doom-fueled, circular thinking, our thoughts may become increasingly irrational, distorted, and even delusional. In this cycle, it may become increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction. If nothing else, try to at least recognize when your thoughts are directly correlating with your feelings and vice versa.
Try to stay mindful.
In many cases, the perception of the present may be affected by thoughts of the past and a worry of the future. By focusing on the present, we’re more easily able to control our thinking. Whether it’s focusing on our five senses or occupying our minds with simple activities, like gardening or doing the dishes, staying mindful may help to slow negative thinking patterns.
Implement problem-solving skills.
Once we can identify irrational thoughts and practice mindfulness, we’re better equipped to think in terms of solving problems. As stated, feeling hopeless tends to coincide with feeling powerless. While you may not be able to change a situation, such as a sick family member, brainstorm ways you can affect the situation, like writing a letter to them. Believe the situation can be changed, even on a small scale, then implement strategies to make yourself or another feel better.
Reach out to others.
Feeling hopeless is also often accompanied with feeling isolated. When we feel the world is unfair, we tend to think that it’s uniquely unfair to us. This is simply not true. Previous rainstorm analogy aside, that black cloud doesn’t just follow you around. Many know it intimately. Whether it’s joining an online support group or calling a close friend, share your feelings and your circumstance with others. Also, many others have overcome major adversities in life, so reading or hearing their stores may help give perspective or solutions.
Turn to your faith or a higher purpose.
Faith can play a tremendous role in overcoming feelings of hopelessness. For millions, religion and spirituality offer comfort when it’s hard to find it elsewhere. Consider calling your spiritual leader or revisiting religious texts that speak to you. Similarly, consider volunteering or performing acts of kindness for another. If nothing else, incorporating a Higher Power or altruistic acts into tough times helps us to live outside of ourselves.
Seek professional help.
In some cases, feelings of hopelessness aren’t necessarily due to a situation or circumstance. It may be symptomatic of a diagnosable mental or behavioral health condition. If so, seeking professional help may be absolutely necessary. Millions of people have been helped tremendously through evidence-based counseling, education, peer support, and medications as indicated. While feeling hopeless may seem unsurmountable, hope is always obtainable – and always worth finding.