When we experience overwhelming disappointment in life, or when we are dealing with depression, it is common to experience a sense of hopelessness and feel like your situation will never change for the better. By definition, hopelessness is a feeling of despair or the absence of believing that life can become better. When you feel hopeless, it’s easy to think about all the reasons why nothing will ever improve. Your mind plays tricks on you by convincing you that your situation will not change despite your efforts. It leads us to adopt a narrowed perspective on what is possible for us. You may believe that your mood will never change or that you will always feel depressed. Or you may feel hopeless about ever reaching something that you desire, whether it be a career goal, relationship, or personal achievement of some kind. Living without passion, optimism, or excitement toward the future can become very painful, especially because having a sense of hope is a critical part of our well-being.
As humans, we need hope because it increases our confidence for getting through difficult situations, especially situations that are out of our control. For many people, hope is a coping mechanism that prevents us from mentally crumbling. For example, when we are facing something difficult, having a sense of hope is often what gets us through the challenge. Hope fuels resiliency, problem-solving, determination, confidence, and belief in a positive outcome. We can’t always avoid situations that make us feel hopeless, but we can learn to control how we react to hopelessness. You always have the ability to recognize that you are starting to feel hopeless and shift gears toward regaining hope again. Always remember that hopelessness does not need to be permanent.
One of the best ways to regain hope is to reframe your perspective. When you feel hopeless, you might be engaging in catastrophizing, or expecting a worst-case scenario. Catastrophizing is a mental process in which we overestimate how negative a situation is or falsely believe that a worst-case scenario is unavoidable and permanent. Although your painful feelings are very real and valid, we have to caution ourselves not to get stuck in the mindset of catastrophic-thinking to the point of hopelessness. The challenge is finding a balance between validating our painful experiences while at the same time recognizing that change is possible and things can always get better. Be careful not to minimize your pain. But at the same time, be careful not to lose hope in things getting better.
It is also helpful to remember that no matter how painful your circumstances are currently, your life is constantly evolving and there is often no evidence to say that you will be permanently stuck in your situation forever. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the belief that nothing will ever change, but it is much healthier to recognize that our lives and emotions are constantly changing. For people who are experiencing hopelessness due to the death of a loved one or the permanent loss of something important to them, believing that “things can change” may be especially difficult given the permanency of the loss they have experienced. But even so, a person’s relationship with grief will change over time. The loss may be permanent, but their experience with grief will evolve over time. For many people, the grief stays with them but it changes. In time, they are able to miss the person or thing they have lost while at the same time finding new meaning in life and experiencing joy again. Healing is always possible. Finding meaning in life is always possible. Anything can happen. Things can become better.
In addition, once you are ready to begin healing, it can be helpful to find and focus on the positives in life. This does not mean that you have to forget or invalidate the pain that you have experienced. Your situation that led to hopelessness deserves to be recognized, understood, and validated because that situation was a part of your reality that will always be a painful chapter in your life. Nobody can argue against that. But you deserve to give yourself permission to shift your attention – at some point, when you’re ready – to positive alternatives. For example, if you are able to ungrasp your pain just a little bit, you might be able to grab onto some joy again. It’s important to be gentle with yourself through your healing process. Please do not pressure yourself or rush this process. We all navigate through life at different paces and you have to find your own way forward.
If you are experiencing hopelessness that is persisting longer than what feels normal to you, please reach out for help from a mental health professional. Experiencing hopelessness can be a sign of a serious mental health condition like depression. With treatment, it is very possible to overcome these feelings and start living a more fulfilling life. You deserve it!
Written by Lauren Presutti