What Can Help When You're Feeling Hopeless

What to do when you feel hopeless

Verywell / Catherine Song

Hopelessness, by definition, is the belief that things aren’t going to get better or that you can’t succeed.

Whether you feel hopeless about your ability to get out of debt or you feel hopeless about almost everything in life, it is an awful feeling.

Feeling stuck in a place of hopelessness makes life really tough. Fortunately, there are some things you can do when you're feeling hopeless to make life a bit better—no matter how bad things might seem.

Press Play for Advice On Dealing With Hopelessness

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can manage feelings of hopelessness. Click below to listen now.

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Consider That Your Brain Might Be Lying to You

Your brain might tell you that things are awful, horrible, and dreadful. It may try to convince you that you can’t succeed or tell you that there’s no chance things are going to get better.

But just because you think it doesn’t mean it’s true. Your thoughts may be distorted, inaccurate, or downright wrong.

Hopeless feelings fuel hopeless thoughts. And it’s easy to get caught up in a negative cycle that makes it hard to see that things can get better.

You might even think things like, “I’ve tried everything already and nothing works!” But that’s probably a cognitive distortion. You may have tried a few things—or even 10 things—but you likely haven’t tried everything.

At least be open to the idea that the way you’re thinking might not be accurate. There may be more hope than you imagine.

Argue the Opposite

When you feel hopeless, you’ll likely think about all the reasons why nothing will ever get better. So take a few minutes to argue the opposite.

What’s the evidence that things might work out better than you expect? Or how might things actually get better?

Thinking a bit about the potential positives can open you up to more possibilities. And while there’s a chance that things might not turn out great, there’s also a chance that they might not turn out as bad (or stay as bad) as you’re anticipating.

Arguing the opposite might just open your brain up to the idea that things may not be as gloomy as you’re anticipating.

Think About What You Gain From Feeling Hopeless

Thinking about what you gain from being hopeless sounds like a strange exercise on the surface. After all, you might be thinking, “I don’t gain anything. I don’t want to feel this way.”

But, upon a little more reflection you might discover that feeling hopeless protects you from being disappointed. If you don’t expect anything good to happen, you don’t have to worry about being disappointed if things go poorly.

Being hopeless also might help you feel all right about not taking action.

For example, if you’re hopeless that you’ll ever pay off your debt, you might not bother trying to increase your income (by getting another job) or you might not manage your spending (by creating a budget).

So consider whether you might be gaining something by remaining hopeless. You might find it somehow protects you from creating change or doing anything differently.

Consider What You Could Gain From Developing Hope

On the flipside, consider what you could gain if you became more hopeful. How might your life change? What would you be doing differently if you had hope?

Then, you might go ahead and start acting as if you were hopeful.

For example, you might realize that if you had hope, you’d be going out and meeting new people. Or, you’d be applying for a new job. Go do those things, even if you aren’t hopeful, they’ll work.

Sometimes, you have to change your behavior first and the feelings might follow. So if you act hopeful, you might start to eventually feel more hopeful.

Engage In Problem-Solving

There is always something you can do to solve a problem or to change how you feel about the problem. Spend some time thinking about potential solutions to the problem. Brainstorm ideas and keep them in mind, you don’t even necessarily need good ideas. Just see if you can come up with as many strategies as you can to address a problem.

If you can’t solve the problem (like in the case of a loved one’s illness), consider how to change how you feel about the problem. Could spending time with family members help you feel a little better? Might you feel a little more hopeful if you took a mental health day from the workplace?

There’s always something you can do to make things a little better or to help yourself feel a little better.

Talk to a Trusted Friend or Family Member

When you’re struggling to identify possible solutions or you are having a hard time getting unstuck, reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Tell them what you’re experiencing.

They may be able to help you see things from a different perspective. Or, they may offer strategies that can help you feel better.

It can be hard to tell people what you’re going through. However, telling someone could be key to helping you gain a little more hope about your situation.

Develop a Plan

After you’ve developed ideas—by yourself and/or with someone else—create a plan. Decide what step you are going to take first.

Keep in mind that if plan A doesn’t work, you can always have a plan B. Think of your plan as an experiment and your job is to run as many experiments as you can until you discover what works.

Take Action

Once you have a plan in place, it’s important to take action.

After all, you likely won’t gain hope about your situation by sitting still. Instead, you’ll gain more hope when you start putting yourself out there and start seeing what you can do.

Seek Professional Help

Hopelessness can be a symptom of a mental health issue, like depression. So if your feelings of hopelessness last more than two weeks or you’re concerned about your mental health, talk to someone.

A mental health professional can assess your needs and discuss your treatment options, like talk therapy or medication. Most mental health issues are very treatable. Treatment can help you feel more hopeful about the future.

Get Help Now

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 A Word From Verywell

Remember, just because things feel hopeless doesn’t mean they are. With a little help from someone else or a slightly different perspective, you might discover that things can get better. 

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.