If you feel like you can’t go on, these expert tips will help you stay safe and change your thinking

If things seem hopeless and you feel like giving up on life, it’s vital to know you’re not alone.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data reveals that, in 2020, over 12 million Americans ‘seriously thought about’ suicide.

But there are ways to cope and help yourself if these thoughts and emotions loom. We spoke to experts to get their insights on the best steps to take.

Helplines are the most readily available resource for those in crisis mode, explains Dr. Ashley Smith, licensed psychologist and co-founder of Peak Mind: The Center for Psychological Strength.

“Call or text 988 to talk to someone,” she states. “This is the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, and someone is there 24/7 to help you. You can also call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room if you feel unable to keep yourself safe.”

Hopelessness and despair are often overwhelming emotions and can make getting through the following days or weeks feel impossible.

To make life more manageable, “take things one step at a time, even in five-minute blocks,” recommends Dr. Michael Groat, Chief Clinical Officer at Silver Hill Hospital.

“When distressed, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed and that we need to immediately solve everything difficult,” he adds. “Be patient with yourself.”

“Humans are social creatures,” states Dr. Laura Erickson-Schroth, M.A., Psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at The Jed Foundation. “Everyone is different, but reasons to live typically involve connection with others or a sense of purpose.”

Creating connections or purpose might involve volunteering at a local animal shelter, for instance, or learning a new skill in a group setting.

According to 2018 research, volunteering to help others reduces depression. It can also improve physical health, life satisfaction, and social well-being.

“Research on suicide shows that, for most people, having a reason to live is powerful enough to keep them alive,” she notes.

While your mind might tell you nothing will ever improve, understand this isn’t the case.

“Our thinking can get twisted and become really negative, especially when we feel depressed, hopeless, or overwhelmed,” shares Smith. “Your mind might say, ‘There’s no other option except suicide. It will never get better. Others would be better off without me.’”

But she continues, try to recognize your thoughts for what they are: just thoughts.

“Recognize that these feelings of hopelessness can cause ‘tunnel vision’ and distort your emotions (which, in turn, can affect your actions),” agrees Dr. Taft Parsons III, Chief Psychiatric Officer at CVS Health.

“Reminding yourself that this pain can and will pass eventually is the first step to coping with suicidal thoughts,” he adds.

If things seem hopeless, chances are you’ll find it tricky to recognize the good things in life — but they are there.

“Write a list of reasons to live,” says Smith. “Try to come up with as many as possible. Even the smallest reasons count!”

Groat suggests to “think about those you love, including pets. It’s important to remember that these people will miss you.”

Consider keeping a daily gratitude journal, as this can be a great way to consistently remind yourself of life’s positives.

When creating a list, it’s OK if you only start with a short list. But as you continue to incorporate this practice into your daily routine you may notice that your list will grow.

“Establishing a daily routine has been shown to benefit an individual’s mental health,” states Parsons.

“It helps alleviate anxiety and combat stress, allows us to cope with change, and supports the adoption of healthy habits.”

He adds that routines can involve regularly scheduled workout classes, meetings with family or friends, or hobbies.

It might sound clichéd, but exercise really can help.

“Studies show that physical activity improves mood,” asserts Erickson-Schroth. “You won’t want to do it in the moment, but when you’re done, there’s a good chance you’ll feel a little better.”

Not into running? No problem: all movement counts. Consider engaging in exercises you enjoy which may include:

  • yoga
  • a dance workout
  • running
  • tai chi
  • lifting weights

Planning ahead can also incentivize you. “It can be hard to make yourself exercise when you’re already feeling down, so sign up in advance for a class or make a standing date for a walk with a friend every week,” she recommends.

When we feel low, it’s easy to turn to vices such as alcohol or drugs to try to improve our mood.

But these substances “affect the way you think and feel, and can make you more likely to engage in unhealthy habits or actions,” shares Parsons.

Alcohol and drugs negatively influence our brain’s neurotransmitters, which are considered key players in mental health concerns such as depression.

Depression is the condition most often linked to hopelessness and suicide ideation. In reality, these thoughts occur across a much broader range of concerns.

“Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, have the highest rates of death by suicide,” shares Erickson-Schroth.

“There are other conditions where people experience suicidal thoughts often, even if they do not lead to as many deaths by suicide,” she adds. “Those with complex post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder have high rates of suicidal thoughts.”

But those without diagnosed mental health disorders can also feel like the best option is to give up on life.

“Many who are suicidal despair of belonging, [and] this can lead to painful feelings of isolation and disconnection,” states Groat. “Accompanied by intense self-hatred, anxiety, or overwhelming distress, it is hard for individuals to imagine a time when things will ever be any better.”

Furthermore, Parson explains, environmental factors — such as prolonged stress, life-altering events, or exposure to another person’s suicide — can also increase an individual’s risk of developing feelings of hopelessness.

For those feeling despair or hopelessness, it’s essential not to sit in silence.

“Recognize that you shouldn’t — and don’t have to — manage suicidal thoughts or behavior on your own,” asserts Parsons.

“Bottling up your emotions can make things worse,” he noted. “As hard as it may be to open up, knowing someone is on your side can help you tackle them.”

If you think about not carrying on with life but don’t have active thoughts about self-harming, “seek connection with a mental health professional who can provide support and guidance,” says Erickson-Schroth.

Search for a therapist on The National Register of Health Service Psychologists, while this guide on JED’s website provides tips on finding a culturally competent therapist.

If you’re in immediate danger of self-harming:

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