Suddenly, a class 5 hurricane comes out of nowhere and literally wrecks your life; you discover your health is failing; your best friend commits suicide. These aren’t scenarios from a TV show or movie — they’re tough times that many people face all over the world, and even if you’re not dealing with something so major, you’re still in a state of utter despair.
Step back for a second. You’re still able to read this, or you have someone reading it to you. To realize the fact of your existence and what that realization means right now is part of the journey not just to recovery, but to bliss.
When you’re in a state of bliss, what does that look like? Where are you, is there anyone with you, are you relaxed, is there an incredible scent hanging in the air?
Even if the advice I’m about to give you doesn’t put you in a state of bliss, it will help you get closer to a place where bliss is possible.
Below, you’ll discover the initial steps towards recovery — those first essential actions you must take to recover from being in a state of despair. Next, you’ll get tips on maintaining psychological stability once there’s some distance between yourself and whatever is causing you to despair. Finally, you’ll grasp a philosophical standpoint that will help you help others when they are in a state of despair like yours.
Ready to get through this tough moment in your life and emerge a better person? Let’s do this.
1. You Are Not Alone — Cry out for Help
First, know this: Isolation is dangerous while you’re in despair.
If you break down and do something you can’t take back, there’s a good chance no one is helping you think differently.
Some 70 percent of people who commit suicide are not undergoing mental health treatment, and suicide rates for people between the ages of 34 and 65 have increased by 33 percent since the year 2000. If those individuals who killed themselves had been able to get treatment, it could have saved their lives.
Find a counselor. If you don’t have health insurance and it’s going to cost too much, search for free counseling options in your community. Try the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Helpline, 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727), if you’re at a loss.
Or call a family member or friend if you simply need someone to talk to. Even if you can’t completely unburden yourself, talking to someone is better than the alternative of carrying such a heavy burden.
A caveat: Do not try to substitute your friends and family for an actual therapist. It’s unhealthy for both you and them, because there’s too much emotional attachment.
In short, you’ll be burdening them too much, and they may give you biased advice. A counselor will give you objective advice that can help immensely.
2. Search Yourself and Be Honest About Absolutely Everything
Now that you’ve identified someone to talk to, it’s time to take these important steps:
- Take a look at your life and ask whether there are any ongoing physical, external issues in your environment making things worse.
- Examine your diet and lifestyle for factors affecting your wellness (more on this soon).
- Examine your thoughts and look for the types of thoughts, or the very specific thoughts, that are causing you to despair.
At this point, it will help to go to the doctor and get a physical exam. Find out where you’re at biologically. Maybe you’re not getting enough vitamins or nutrients, or you’re getting too much of something. You may not be getting enough exercise. Be honest with the doctor.
Be honest with your counselor. Hold nothing back when describing your past experiences as well as daily thoughts and habits.
Be honest with your family and friends. You need to tell them how you feel no matter how hard it is. This is part of one of the most essential steps to recovery: acknowledging your feelings.
3. Get at the Feelings Leading You to a Sense of Despair
Feelings of despair, depression or anxiety don’t exist in a vacuum — negative thoughts lead to feelings of subtle unease or agitation. This mounts into a negative attitude that slowly eats away at you. When something really bad happens, a negative attitude escalates into panic, despair, or desperation.
What are the negative thoughts and feelings you’ve had in the past? What are the ones you’re harboring now?
This is not a matter of fault. These thoughts and feelings can’t help but bubble to the surface. However, when you dwell on them, they create pathways in your brain.
Eventually, once something catastrophic happens — as it will, because this is life — your mind gets overwhelmed because you’ve trained yourself to let bad feelings take control. An excess of bad feelings for a continuous period of time creates despair.
4. Now Adjust Your Perspective
You’re dealing with an ongoing situation that is incredibly hard to cope with. To despair is to react out of hopelessness.
“But this situation really is hard,” you say. Yes, it is; don’t expect too much of yourself.
To cope with the situation is to acknowledge the toughness of it. Give yourself a break for feeling bad — anyone would feel bad in your situation.
There, that’s a big part of it: you just started to think about how others might feel. You can expand even further. Take an even more distant, worldwide perspective.
Aren’t other people in the world going through tough times too? In fact, aren’t there worse situations, huge catastrophes, traumatic times when people suffer from complete loss and devastation? How would you feel in their situation? You certainly wouldn’t blame them.
Ultimately, the human mind determines the level of suffering a person perpetuates after a traumatic event. In that sense, there’s hope because your mind is malleable. It’s like a broken bone.
Give it time to heal, take the necessary actions, don’t be hard on it.
5. Bask in Self Care Exercises
Self care is stuff you do with no stressful strings attached. These are things you do for you and your well-being. That might sound selfish, but self care is actually a basic pillar of psychological health. Dr. Maria Baratta says:
“Incorporating self care every day helps to serve as an armor to protect the energy that we need in order to survive and thrive… Self care goes a long way in managing stress and living your best life.”
Here are some self care suggestions:
- Prioritize a consistent sleep schedule and get ample sleep every night.
- Say no to things that are stressing you out and aren’t essential to your well-being.
- Prioritize eating healthy foods and spend a little extra on your favorite healthy comfort food of choice.
- Take more little breaks at work and take time to simply decompress after work.
- Set aside time each day to do something you truly enjoy.
- Consider meditation or other spiritual practices to access your spiritual self
- Love yourself — think about your personal qualities and reflect on what makes you lovable.
What’s more, consider less — consider minimalism as a form of self care. According to author Kendra Yoho:
“By getting rid of the things that matter little in life, we are left with the things that matter most.”
Particularly in your personal space, a glut of things you don’t need can’t create stress. Declutter your room and make it as comfy, livable, and enjoyable as possible .
You get the idea. Self care can be creative, comfortable, fun — whatever you want to make it, whatever helps you refuel.
6. Challenge Yourself to Act Instead of Reacting
Now that you’re more distant from your despair, it’s time to continue healing proactively.
When you’re reacting, you’re letting the circumstances control you; when you’re acting, you’re taking control and changing your life.
There are many actions you can take. Laz Versalles, a writer for Accesa Labs, took part in the Whole Life Challenge and it changed his life.
Before he took the challenge, Laz found out his cholesterol and glucose levels were so high, he was on the road to a heart attack or diabetes. According to Laz:
“For those who are unfamiliar, the Whole Life Challenge (WLC) is a wellness program focused on seven daily practices that give players a chance to score points in each category with an eye on creating lifelong healthy habits. The seven categories are Nutrition, Exercise, Mobility, Hydration, Sleep, Reflection and Well-Being.”
A regimen like the Whole Life Challenge goes a step beyond self care because you’re pushing yourself to take it to the next level.
Call it Self Care 2.0. Exercise should figure prominently among your new habits. Even if times are still tough, you’re moving beyond by looking outward at your next activity, not inward at your despair.
7. Find a Way to Help Someone Else
Now that you’ve helped yourself, it’s time to help someone else. This is another way to look outward. Look beyond your tough times and look at what you can do to support others in your community.
Here are some ideas for helping others:
- Volunteer at the homeless shelter soup kitchen
- Join a peer support group
- Volunteer for clean-up efforts around the city
- Volunteer at the local Boys and Girls Club
- Volunteer with the city Parks and Recreation department
- Notice which of your neighbors need help and offer your services
- Volunteer at an old folks’ home
- Volunteer at a church
The list could go on and on. Besides using your eyes and ears, use a handy internet search to identify organizations that need volunteers in your community.
8. Learn an Instrument
There are so many benefits to learning an instrument it’s hard to believe. If you already know how to play one, learn a new one. Playing music benefits the brain more than any other activity. Here are some of the surprising benefits:
- You’ll be more mentally alert.
- You’ll improve your connection to other people.
- You’ll improve your memory and literacy skills.
- You’ll experience more moments of happiness.
- Your senses will heighten because you’ll be better at processing multiple sensory events at once. In other words, your level of mindfulness will improve.
- You’ll increase the blood flow to your brain, and your brain will recover better from what caused you to despair in the first place.
- You’ll lower your stress and depression levels.
- Your brain’s executive function — its overall ability to process and retain information — will improve.
Have you ever been to a concert where you had fun, and you looked at the band or performer and there was a unique, even blissful, look on their face? That look is the visual representation of what music does for your brain.
Yes, learning an instrument is a challenge — but that’s the point.
9. Make a Friend, Take What You’ve Learned and Share It
You are on the proactive road to getting through a seriously tough period in your life. You’ve discovered it’s about looking outside of yourself and powering through with grit and determination. Eventually, the tough times end and you feel emotionally stable. Now it’s time to share.
This step is an extension that may be the hardest because you’ll actually be working hard to notice when someone is having a tough time, and instead of simply telling them everything will be okay, you’ll be making a connection with that individual.
You’ll need to build a friendship before you can offer advice. Once that friendship is built, a moment will come when they need advice.
Don’t hold back — but make sure you’ve spent plenty of time just listening to them. When they notice you’re listening, they’ll ask you what you would do, or they’ll ask for help.
There it is! You have no more backward inclinations toward despair because you focused on someone else and you focused on what it takes to become their friend.
It feels really good just being there for somebody. Your tough times turned into a new friendship, one you could keep the rest of your life.
This is the most important thing you’ve ever done. It’s a good thing you had some tough times. Without them, you wouldn’t have had this new experience with a new person in your life.
Getting through tough times actually makes you an incredible person.
By reaching out and asking for help from someone, you gain wisdom.
By being honest with yourself, you gain the ability to be honest with others.
By becoming mindful of your deep-seated feelings, you gain more control over your words and actions.
By adjusting your perspective, you gain a mode of thinking that enables you to connect with others.
By indulging in self care, you rejuvenate yourself and gain mental armor.
By acting instead of reacting, you gain new, healthy habits.
By helping someone else, you gain valuable, eye-opening experience.
By learning an instrument, you gain a new level of intellectual and emotional competency.
By making a new friend, you gain new possibilities and an invaluable connection. Keep going in this direction, and the next time things get tough, the word despair won’t even enter the picture.
Featured photo credit: Nick Bolton via unsplash.com