Understanding Hopelessness

4 tips to stay sober during the holidays

Hopelessness is a terrible feeling. Not only is it a powerfully defeating emotion, hopelessness changes our perception of reality. When we feel hopeless, without hope, it’s difficult to perceive the prospect of improving our current circumstances, our relationships, and any future prospects we may have. People who feel hopeless tend to lose interest in things they once valued, such as activities and relationships. Those who feel hopeless may increasingly feel powerless, isolated, and abandoned. Without hope, we lose our ability to imagine the sun behind the clouds. We can tend to only focus on the immediate storm and how long it will last.

Life is not easy. It can be overwhelming, painful, and truly unfair. However, 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.

Understanding Irrational Thoughts 

The human mind is powerful. It can produce the highest of emotions. But also the lowest of lows. When we feel these low emotions (hopelessness), some people can tend to 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. Becoming aware of your thought life, and how irrational thoughts play a part in your thinking, can be the difference between happiness and misery.

Stay Mindful of Your Thoughts

In many cases, the perception of the present may be affected by thoughts of the past and a worry of the future. This is especially true for addicts. Years of bad decisions that accompany addiction can lead to an abundance of thoughts of guilt and shame. This is why 12-step programs teach those in recovery to live “Just for Today.” 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, staying mindful may help to slow negative thinking patterns. Slowing down your thoughts in early recovery is so important.

Implement Thought Changing Skills

Once we can identify irrational thoughts and practice thinking about our thoughts, we can be better equipped to think in terms of changing our thoughts. As stated, feeling hopeless tends to coincide with feelings of powerlessness. While you may not be able to change a situation, you can change the way you think about a situation. The key is to break down the thoughts into more manageable pieces that you can attack. Beginning a life of recovery often brings to the immediate forefront all the things you have been hiding from. Legal issues, family relational issues, financial problems. All o these can be overwhelming for those trying to change their life and can cause hopelessness. Keeping a journal, writing down your thoughts, or just thinking on positive things can help fend off feelings of hopelessness.

Reach Out To Others

Feeling hopeless is also often accompanied with being or 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. The key to defeating hopelessness and isolation is to reach out to others. This can be the most difficult aspect of getting help. We can tend to feel that we are the only one who feels the way we do. Or have done the things that we have done. This is where a recovery community is so important. You can find a peer driven community to help you see that you are not alone, not in your addiction and not in your recovery. 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 God

Faith can play a tremendous role in overcoming feelings of hopelessness. God created us for a specific purpose. Certainly that being has a specific purpose for you. Seek Him and His purpose for you and you will find a higher purpose. 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.

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