Hope for the Hopeless

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By: Thamar Jones
You’re trying to find a job, but never got a call back after your last interview.
You’ve had a string of awful situationships and you’re convinced that you’ll never find the right person. You’ve repeatedly asked your spouse to work less or spend less or drink less and after promising to make a change, they still haven’t. Your economic situation is spiraling and you’re not sure how to turn it around. You are depressed; nothing seems to be helping. And, so, you feel hopeless.
You assume that this feeling of hopelessness carries with it some significant truth: your circumstances won’t improve, you should just stop trying; you might as well give up.
When people are feeling hopeless, they often view their situation in a polarized, black and white way. They may say things like, “Nothing I do is making a difference,” “My circumstances will never improve,” “What’s the point of even trying?”, “I’m in a dark place and can’t get out,” “I’ll never be happy,” “I’ll never find love.”
Maybe these statements sound all-too familiar. But these hopeless sentiments couldn’t be further from the truth.
Kate Allan is the author of the uplifting, self-help book, You Can Do All Things: Affirmations and Mindfulness to Help with Anxiety and Depression. Allan, who also has anxiety and depression, understands first-hand what it’s like to deal with a sinking sense of hope. When she feels hopeless, she instantly tells herself, “These feelings of hopelessness are a sign—not that life is bad or that my problems are impossible, but a weirdly dramatic notification from the brain that you may not be keeping up on your self-care, and that you need to reach out and connect with somebody.”
Allan has come up with a mental checklist and in her times of despair, she turns to her checklist, and asks herself: Did I sleep well? Have I eaten? Did I connect with anyone today? If the answers to any of these are ‘no,’ then she knows that she needs to be more careful with herself. It’s a signal that her defenses are down, and it takes little for her mental health to spiral into severe depression.
You, too, can use your feelings of hopelessness to check in with yourself. Ask yourself: What do I need? Am I meeting those needs? What am I telling myself?
Hopelessness can point to a real limit or an irrational self-limiting belief. Maybe the reason you feel so hopeless isn’t rooted in reality, but instead in a false narrative about your abilities or circumstances. Maybe you tell yourself that you don’t really deserve a raise, or loving friends. Maybe you tell yourself that you’re not that smart or creative or capable.
These kinds of stories not only hamper your sense of hope, but they create situations that make it seem like you’re hopeless and can’t do anything right. They lead you to take actions that aren’t helpful. Which is why another strategy for bolstering your hope lies in revising your self-limiting beliefs.
Below, you’ll find expert suggestions for building hope.
Ask for help. Hopelessness is often just a powerful reminder that we can’t do it all by ourselves. Many situations that feel or truly are hopeless to an individual suddenly becomes doable when other people get involved. Maybe you can ask your loved ones for help or a different perspective. Maybe you can talk to members of your church. Maybe you can join an online or in-person support group.
Change the goal. If the situation is truly unchangeable, is there a way to change the goal? If you can’t leave your job, your goal becomes to make it enjoyable and meaningful for you. If your spouse won’t change their ways, your goal becomes to change yourself, your routines and/or your friendships so you can meet more of your needs. If you can’t change a life-altering diagnosis, your goal becomes to face it with dignity, self-compassion and strength.
Focus on purpose. It is important to focus on what gives you meaning and purpose in these four areas: connection, passion, cause and spirituality. That is, how can you connect to your partner, friends, family and colleagues? What creativity-fostering hobby or interest can you pursue? How can you help others? How might you ease their suffering? What fulfills you spiritually? Is it praying, meditating or spending time in nature or doing something else?
Think in moments. Maybe you feel hopeless about the future, about a year from now or a month from now. So focus on this very moment. Focus on this very minute. As Therese Borchard beautifully writes for readers with depression, “All you have to do is persevere for 15 minutes at a time and be as gentle with yourself as you would a scared child in the middle of a thunderstorm.”
Seek therapy. Therapy is especially important when your hopelessness is affecting your ability to work, to appreciate things you’ve always appreciated or to spend time with your loved ones. (Your hopelessness might be a sign of depression.) Be upfront in therapy about how you’re feeling.
And if hopelessness has led you to start thinking about harming yourself or ending your life, please make seeking help your top priority. It’s vital to also remember that hopelessness is a feeling, not an ultimate reality. Just because you think change isn’t possible, doesn’t make it true. Kate Allan noted that all of us have the ability to rewire our brains. “How we choose to focus our minds and act can change the pathways within the brain and help improve our mental and physical health.”
This is a profound message of hope, rooted in sound science.
Sometimes, it feels like your sense of hope is so shaky, so fragile. But this shakiness, this fragility may be pointing to a false story you need to revise. It might be pointing to a change you need to make or a goal you need to adjust. It might be pointing to an unmet need. In other words, that hopelessness isn’t a sign that you need to give up. It’s a sign that you need to pivot or redirect—which is something you can absolutely do. And there’s real, tangible hope in that