“There’s no point in trying”, “things will never get better”, “I’ll never be happy” – are there times you feel like giving up, like everything is hopeless?
Hopelessness can lead to a vicious cycle. If you give in to feelings of hopelessness, then you’re not going to do the very things that can help you feel better about your daily life – for example, meeting up with friends or family, heading out for some fresh air or a coffee, exercising, cooking, engaging with old hobbies, trying new things, and so on.
After all, what’s the point if things are hopeless?
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, but don’t give into those feelings. There are things you can do right now that will help lift those difficult feelings.
DOUBT YOUR HOPELESSNESS
In his book Beat the Blues, cognitive behavioural therapy expert Dr Robert Leahy gives the example of someone who says, ‘I feel happy right now, so I am absolutely convinced that I will be happy for the rest of my life. In fact, I will become so happy that I will be ecstatic. I will be the happiest person in the world’.
Do you think this person is too optimistic? I think so. Life has its ups and downs. As Dr Leahy points out, our optimistic friend is going to have sad, even terrible experiences.
Similarly, ask yourself: do you really know the future? Are your pessimistic predictions really more reliable than this person’s predictions of endless bliss? Will things always be as tough as they seem right now? Or might things get better?
You might think your predictions of a hopeless future are more valid and less extreme. But ask yourself, have there been times in the past where you wrongly thought you would never be happy again?
When we’re down, it can seem like things will always be black, but that’s not true. Hopelessness is, as Robert Leahy puts it, “the biggest distortion you can have”. Doubt your hopelessness and remember that feelings pass.
ACT AGAINST YOUR HOPELESSNESS
If you’re feeling hopeless, you may feel inclined to isolate yourself and to passively ruminate on how awful everything is. As mentioned earlier, this then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and you end up feeling even more hopeless than before.
A simple but really effective emotional strategy is to do an opposite action – that is, do the opposite to how you feel and act as if you aren’t feeling hopeless.
What would you ordinarily do if you were feeling positive and hopeful? Would you call a friend and meet up for a drink? Would you go to the cinema? Would you go for a walk or jog or get out in nature? Would you make plans to do something new?
“Acting as if” will help take you out of your head and help you feel more hopeful and positive.
BE AWARE OF EMOTIONAL REASONING
Many of us are occasionally prone to emotional reasoning, the mistaken assumption that if something feels true, it must be true. However, feelings aren’t facts. Just because something feels true, doesn’t mean it is true.
A student may “feel stupid” after giving the wrong answer to their teacher in class, but that doesn’t mean they are stupid.
A socially anxious person might feel inferior in social company, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior.
Someone might be scared, but that doesn’t mean their situation is dangerous.
And you might feel hopeless, but that doesn’t mean things are hopeless.
FOCUS ON HOPEFUL GOALS
You may feel hopeless because you are overwhelmingly focused on one difficulty. Maybe you feel hopeless because of financial stress, or family problems, or because of a relationship break-up, and so on.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision at such times, but no one experience or person has to determine your happiness.
Ask yourself, are there other things you don’t feel hopeless about? Are there things you can do that can help you move forward and lift your mood?
If you step back, you will see you have other goals – whether minor or major – that you can work towards. Focus on things you can control rather than ruminating on matters that you can’t control.