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Life can be an emotional rollercoaster, with ups and downs that affect your moods, feelings and thoughts.
It’s normal to feel sad, disappointed or hopeless from time to time. These feelings can develop as a result of personal setbacks, health issues and changes that occur in your life, even those that you knew were coming.
When feelings of hopelessness persist, they may be a sign that you have a mental health issue such as clinical depression.
Dealing with feelings of hopelessness can be difficult, especially if they come on suddenly and don’t seem to improve on their own. Luckily, the right combination of healthy habits, changes to your lifestyle and — if necessary — medication can help you to feel better.
Below, we’ve shared 11 tips that you can use to improve your thoughts and feelings when you’re feeling hopeless about life, from simple habits to science-based medical treatment options.
“Rumination” means thinking deeply and repeatedly about something, such as a negative event that occurred in your life. It’s derived from the Latin word for chewing cud — a process in which cows chew, regurgitate and then consume their feed over and over again.
When you ruminate on a negative event, it can take a toll on your mental health and contribute to feelings of hopelessness and depression. It can affect your ability to solve problems in your life by impairing your thinking skills.
If you’re prone to ruminating, stopping can be difficult, but simple changes to your habits might make the process easier.
One habit that’s often helpful for bucking rumination is distracting yourself by staying busy with other things. This could mean going for a walk, spending time on a hobby or just thinking about something unrelated to your source of depression or anxiety.
If you find yourself constantly returning to the same negative thoughts, try allowing your mind to wander to different topics. After all, there’s nothing wrong with being distracted if it prevents you from spending time on negative thoughts that fuel hopelessness and frustration.
One great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts and reduce feelings of hopelessness is to spend time with your family and close friends.
When you’re feeling hopeless, it’s easy to withdraw from family and friends. This not only gives you time to ruminate, but also increases your risk of developing depression, anxiety or feeling suicidal.
Spending time with other people keeps you busy and prevents negative thoughts from entering your mind. It also gives you direct access to a circle of trusted people who can provide you with emotional support when you need it.
Try to spend time with other people at least one to two times per week. This could mean going out for lunch or dinner with a friend, or visiting a family member’s home to spend time together and catch up.
If you have a busy schedule, even meeting up for a few minutes or chatting to your friends and family members online may help you to feel better and avoid negative thoughts.
Exercise is well known for its physical health benefits, and research increasingly suggests that it’s also effective at treating mental health conditions.
For example, regular exercise is linked to increased release of endorphins — natural chemicals that are responsible for improving your mood. Exercise also stimulates the release of proteins that allow for increased nerve cell growth and function.
The great thing about exercise is that you really don’t need to get that much in order to notice real improvements in your health.
In fact, according to the CDC, around 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week (such as brisk walking or riding a bike around your neighborhood), accompanied by two muscle-strengthening workouts, is enough to improve your health.
To make exercising easier, try setting aside some time to go for a walk or work out with a close friend or member of your family. This way, you’ll be able to keep yourself physically active and socialize at the same time.
Sleep is essential for your physical and mental wellbeing, and it’s particularly important to get enough sleep if you’re feeling hopeless, depressed or anxious.
If you’re feeling down, set a regular bedtime and wake-up time, then hold yourself to your new sleep schedule. Make an effort to be in bed and out of bed at the same times every day, even on weekends.
Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night, or more if you’re under 18 years of age. To help yourself fall asleep on time, try to:
Keep your bedroom quiet and peaceful by closing the curtains and setting a comfortable temperature.
Avoid using electronic devices in your bedroom, and aim to stop using them at least one hour before you plan to go to bed.
Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol, and avoid caffeine completely in the afternoon and evening.
Consider using a natural sleep aid if you find it difficult to fall asleep or often wake up in the night.
When you’re feeling down, it’s easy to let your dietary habits slip. This is especially true if you’re affected by clinical depression, which can often change your appetite, attitude towards food and body weight.
This can contribute to both weight gain and weight loss, with some people overeating when they feel down and others struggling to consume regular meals.
Even when you’re feeling hopeless, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet and eat meals on a regular basis. Try to eat a balanced diet that’s built around healthy foods, such as fresh fruits, vegetables and lean protein sources.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that involves focusing solely on what’s happening in the present moment, then accepting your feelings and sensations without any type of reaction or judgment.
Research suggests that mindfulness meditation can reduce the severity of several mental health issues, including anxiety, depression and stress.
Experts believe that this may be because mindfulness influences certain stress pathways in the brain and activates regions associated with emotional regulation and attention.
If you’re feeling unhappy, hopeless or simply fed up with your situation in life, setting aside time to meditate might help to improve your mood and help you to break out of your current mental state.
Try spending 10 to 15 minutes a day practicing mindfulness meditation at home. You can also combine mindfulness meditation with your social life by taking part in a mindfulness meditation class at your local sports club, yoga center or clinic.
When you’re feeling hopeless, it’s easy to think short-term and make subpar decisions for your future. It’s also easy to let your feelings interfere with your ability to choose the best options for your personal needs.
Because of this, it’s best to avoid making major decisions — such as getting married, moving to a new city or changing jobs — while you’re feeling down.
Whenever possible, try to delay making any big decisions until you’re feeling better. If you need to make a decision urgently, try to talk with a trusted friend or family member who can help you to look at the situation and make an objective decision.
When you’re feeling hopeless, it can feel tempting to drown your sorrows with a glass of wine (or two, three or more), a pack of cigarettes or certain illicit drugs.
Although drinking alcohol can make you feel better in the short term, it’s best to avoid drinking when you’re feeling down. This is because drinking alcohol, especially in excess, can increase your risk of feeling depressed.
Similarly, the nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products is closely linked to anxiety and depression when it’s used over the long term.
Instead of self-medicating with alcohol and other substances, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and focus on overcoming your negative moods. If you have a substance use disorder, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider about the effects it may have on your thoughts and feelings.
When you’re feeling hopeless or dejected, it can be easy to lose track of the personal progress you’re making on a daily basis.
Even when mild, depression and other mood disorders tend to fade away gradually. Every day of progress is a small step towards overcoming tough times and putting your hopeless feelings behind you.
Instead of aiming to recover overnight, focus on making a small amount of progress every day and recording this progress to keep you motivated.
Try to set small, achievable daily goals. This could mean going for a walk, taking part in a new social activity, spending time with friends and family or just doing something you may otherwise avoid doing because of your current feelings.
Over the long term, even a small amount of daily progress can produce huge improvements in the way you think, feel and behave.
It’s normal to go through feelings of sadness and hopelessness every now and then. However, when these feelings persist or you feel like giving up on life, it’s important to reach out to a licensed mental health provider for expert help.
You can do this by talking to your primary care provider about a mental health referral, meeting with a mental health provider in your area, or from your home by using our online mental health services.
It’s especially important to reach out for help if you’ve also started to experience other signs of depression, such as fatigue, slow speech or movement, difficulty sleeping, a lack of interest in activities or suicidal thoughts.
Talking to a mental health professional can help you to learn more about the many options that are available to improve your moods and thoughts, including online therapy and medication.
When you’re feeling hopeless, it’s easy to assume that your negative thoughts and feelings will last forever.
Whether you have depression or are going through a rut due to a personal setback, the reality is that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel.
The key is to take action. This could mean making changes to your habits and daily life, visiting a therapist to talk about your feelings and learn new techniques for dealing with your emotions, using medication or a combination of different approaches.
While recovering from feelings of hopelessness or mild depression isn’t an overnight process, it does happen. Take it slow, be consistent and remember that every difficult situation, regardless of how challenging it might feel, comes to an end eventually.
Most of the time, feelings of hopelessness improve gradually with changes to your habits and a focus on healthy living.
If you still feel hopeless after two weeks, try talking to your primary care provider or scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist to discuss how you’re feeling. Receiving depression treatment online makes it easy to seek expert help from the privacy of your home.
If you meet the diagnostic criteria for depression, your mental health provider may prescribe an antidepressant or other medication to help you control your depression symptoms and work on recovering.
Want to learn more about treating depression? Our guide to dealing with depression explains the most effective ways to manage the symptoms of depression, while our free mental health resources share actionable strategies that you can use to make real progress.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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