Updated: Dec 2, 2022
I am not going to sugar coat it, feeling hopeless sucks! Although, we can all pretty much understand what hopeless feels like, the definition from Dictionary.com is: providing no hope; beyond optimism or hope; desperate. This does not sit well with the best of us at times, so, what can we do to build a more optimistic outlook on situations?
First, I think it's really important to understand and appreciate that feeling "hopeless" at the end of the day, is just a feeling. I am going to break this down a little bit because I think this is such an important point. Most of my work centres around the somatic experience of our lives. That is, our entire experience of the world around is, is determined by the world within us. If we feel good about a situation (of course within ethical boundaries) then, for us, the situation is good. Likewise, if we feel bad, then the situation can be percieved as bad. Therefore, the first thing we should address when we are feeling down and hopeless is what our body is going through. Luckily, in any given situation there are a variety of exercises and tools which can help us feel better.
A lot of my one-on-one wellness coaching and corporate wellness workshops incorporate breathwork into the process. There is a very good reason for this, it works very well! You can learn more about breathwork here but for the sake of this article I am just going to share a couple of exercises that can help boost your mood, energy and focus. Boosting focus is good, so you can channel your coginitive energy into something productive and pro-active.
I personally love the bellows breath (Bhastrika Pranayama). As a matter of fact, I just finished a round before carrying on with the rest of this sentence. It is great for boosting your mood and ability to be present and grounded. The idea behind it is simple: Its 3 rounds of breathing in and out rapidly, 20 times. I promise to make my own instructional video soon but for now this is a good video which demonstrates it clearly.
Another great breathing exercise is the 1-3 breathing exercise. This is one of my favorites as a breathwork coach because it is SO effective and simple. All you need to do is inhale through the nose for 3 seconds, pause, then exhale through the mouth for 9 full seconds. That’s it! The key here is to take long inhales and extended exhales and repeat this for at least 6 times. Ideally, if your body and mind is in quite a stressed state, you can do this up to 20 times. This can be done anywhere, anytime and is also useful to help us sleep.
Lastly, there is a technique I like to utilize called multi-sensoriality. In short, youo are enaging all your senses in a short period of time which really helps dispurse the cognitive energy focusing on the negative and ground you in the present moment. Both the 1-3 breathing exercise and multi-sensoriality are demonstrated in the below video.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Meditating through our painful times is a really great way to learn how to better self-regulate. Although, results are best experienced over a period of time (weeks - months) it is undoubtedly a useful practice. Again, hopelessness is a feeling which is either triggered or compounded by negative self-talk and rumination. When we have a pessimistic outlook on our future coupled with a less than optimal beleif in ourselves, then we have no choice almost to feel poorly. With that in mind, however, with meditation and mindfulness training we can learn to be conscious observers of our thoughts and not be consumed by them. Negative self-talk can be a toxic cycle and one bad thought leads to the next and before we know it, we have thought ourselves into a very low state of being. Let's try out a brief meditation practice to give you a sense of what I mean. Check out the 15 minute guided meditation below:
Cognitive Exercises and Cognitive Reframing
Of course, the way we think about situations (and ourselves) is a huge determining factor in how we feel at any particular time. Often, when we are down our thoughts are not optimistic or self-appreciating. To that end, changing the internal dialogue we have is essential to uplifting our mood and moving out of a hopeless spell. I wrote a article before about how to turn challenges into opportunities which would likely be worth a read for you. For this article, it is useful to look at a few reframing exercises which can yield better emotional outcomes when you are experiencing an episode of despair.
Take the time to go through a gratitude exercise. This is really hard to do when you're feeling down but this is exactly when it is the most necessary. Go through an active process of recognizing who and what you are thankful for in your life. Pay close attention to the details and reasons why. Visualize the person/people/things/experiences that make you feel grateful and bring this into your mind-body as vividly as you can. Be sure not to rush through it, it should have enough time and energy devoted to it in order to change your feeling state. A great stoic quote I like is, "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive. To breath, to think, to enjoy, to love."
Focus on past successes & challenges you have overcame. There are more than likely many situations in the past that were challenging for you. At least, on the surface, they may have seemed insurmountable. To that end, you are here, now. So, what gave you the strength to persevere before? What lessons did you learn? How can you apply that wisdom now? Hopelessness, is when our future seems bleak but our yesterday once became our today so there is strength in us to get through it, no doubt. Another stoic quote perfect for the occasion is, "Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look."
In summary, again, hopelessness is a feeling. If you can focus on changing the feeling, then naturally the heaviness and despair of the situation can dissipate. Lastly, do not ever forget to reach out to those around you for support, strength and wisdom. Some battles should not be fought alone and people are very pro-social and rely on others for support and mental health. Be sure to engage in a community,
tell those in your lives you love them and keep relationships lively.