When you have no expectation of the future or desire to get there, hopelessness can be one explanation. But regaining hope is possible.
You may believe that no matter what you do, think, or say, your situation won’t improve, so, “what’s the point?” This is hopelessness talking to you.
But hope is something you can develop and reconnect to, even in some of the most challenging situations. It may take some time and effort, but feeling hopeless doesn’t have to be permanent.
Hopelessness is the absence of hope in your life. Hope is desiring or expecting positive things to happen in your future. Overall, hope is an optimistic emotion connected to positive outcomes.
When you feel hopeless, you may have a sense that things won’t improve, you’ll never be happy, or you’re stuck in life.
Feeling hopeless can also feel like helplessness, sadness, apathy, or despair. You could feel empty but not know why.
Hopelessness can mean many things for many different people. In fact, there can be different types of hopelessness.
In a network analysis considered to be representative of the general German population, researchers found hopelessness was most commonly linked to:
- an expectation of more negative future events than positive ones
- facing challenges and roadblocks to set goals, along with feelings of giving up
- inability to imagine the future or perceiving the future as vague
Hopelessness is mostly associated with depression. It’s one of the formal symptoms of clinical depression.
There are many possible causes of depression, and if you live with the condition, hopelessness can be a result.
“Hopeless and helplessness are partners. I do not feel hopeless unless I also feel helpless,” says Kim West, a clinical pastoral counselor from Payson, Arizona.
You might also feel hopeless from:
- job loss
- relationship challenges or a recent breakup
- trauma denial
- prolonged exposure to a stressful situation
- natural disasters
- chronic illness
- existential crisis
- prolonged grief disorder
Benefits of hope
“Hope can equal healing in therapy,” says Kresence Campbell, a licensed professional counselor from Philadelphia. “Hope can simply change the mindset, which then changes feelings and then impacts behavior for the positive.”
Campbell adds, “Hope provides a feeling of empowerment. Hope can raise those feelings of confidence and decrease those self-defeating thoughts and negative self-talk.”
When you feel hopeless, it might be difficult to believe things can get better. But it’s important to remember that this is hopelessness or depression talking to you. There is a way out, and things can get better.
Here are a few ways to help you regain hope.
Try identifying the root cause
Hopelessness is often a symptom of a mental health disorder like depression or bipolar disorder. It might also be related to unresolved grief. All of these conditions can be managed and treated.
Your sense of hopelessness can decrease when you treat its underlying cause.
You might think that this isn’t depression because you don’t feel sad, for example. But sadness isn’t the only symptom of depression. It’s possible to have depression and feel hopeless instead of sad.
You may also benefit from learning techniques used in psychotherapy such as:
Consider building a support network
Having someone to talk with or ask for help can help you feel less lonely and more hopeful.
Try to reach out to friends and family members if this is possible. You may also want to create new bonds. For example, you can join a local or online support group where you can find people who feel like you and may understand what you’re going through.
Other people may also help you access other helpful resources you may not be aware of.
“Family, friends, community, and church all have knowledge of and access to resources that we might not think of,” West says. “We cannot say that there is truly no hope until we have exhausted all of these. Even a small bit of help gives hope that there just might be a way to change our situation.”
Try to remind yourself how many times life has changed for the better
Life is filled with ups and downs, and there’s a good chance you’ve already overcome hardships in the past.
Research shows looking back on past success can increase your hope for the future.
“Looking back on our lives, we can see many times that hard situations ended, illness returned to health, life struggles lessened,” West says.
Consider using hopelessness to check in
Maybe you don’t feel hopeless all the time. Maybe it’s a feeling that comes and goes, and it may be alerting you to something.
Whenever you start feeling hopeless, what is that feeling telling you:
- Are you engaging in negative thinking?
- Have you been nurturing your connection to others?
- Are you interacting with pessimistic people who might be affecting your mood?
- Do you need some alone time?
- Have you done anything you enjoy lately?
- Are you using stress management techniques that replenish your emotional reserves?
Feeling hopeless could be how your mind is asking you to engage in self-care practices more often.
Identifying next steps can help
Sometimes putting a plan in place can help you overcome that hopeless feeling. It might help you see that you can achieve some things and that action can lead to positive outcomes.
If possible, try to leave outcomes aside, and instead, consider focusing on actions. You could start by asking yourself these questions:
- What do I enjoy doing?
- What did I enjoy doing that I haven’t done recently?
- What hobbies can I engage in?
- What is one thing I want to get done today?
- What is one thing I want to get done this week?
- What are some limiting beliefs I hold that may get in the way of me getting stuff done?
Campbell also recommends acknowledging your feelings, identifying what’s causing them, and listing solutions.
“Come up with a way to solve the problem, find coping skills to address the feelings, and put a plan in place to implement new changes and how to maintain these changes,” she states.
Try to find role models
West recommends asking yourself what would someone you admire do in your situation.
Similarly, she says looking at the life situations people around you have overcome can be a great motivator.
If it’s possible for you, consider reaching out to a leader at work or in your community and asking for mentorship.
Consider finding strength in spirituality
Research suggests higher levels of religiousness are both directly and indirectly associated with higher levels of hope, as it is related to spirituality and social connections.
Even if you can’t connect with the concept of a god, you could explore other concepts like a higher power, laws of nature, or an inner hero.
Spirituality is a sense of connection to something bigger than yourself.
Hopelessness can come from facing personal challenges, but it’s most commonly associated with symptoms of depression.
In any case, it’s possible to regain hope. Professional guidance, self-evaluation, and finding strength outside yourself can help you meet everyday challenges with a renewed spirit.