5 tips to stop feeling hopeless in uncertain times

Jacquie Cosgrove

With the pandemic, politics and everything in between, it seems as if tensions are running high in most people’s lives. For many, it can feel like emotional overload.

Jen Hartstein, Yahoo Life Mental Health Contributor, spoke to Yahoo Life about ways to hold onto hope at a time when things feel, well, hopeless.

“When we're feeling hopeless, it is very easy to stay stuck there and we become a magnet for every piece of negativity,” she says. “The longer we sit in those feelings, the harder it gets to move out of that.”

5 reasons why you may be feeling hopeless

1. Uncertainty

“There are lots of reasons why many of us are feeling hopeless, not the least of which is that we are living in a time of great uncertainty, and uncertainty is one of the biggest triggers for our anxiety,” she says. “Most of us crave structure and crave routine. We like knowing what we can rely upon. We don't have that right now, so we get lost in this whirl of emotion and we just don't know what to hold onto.”

2. Fear

Hartstein explains that a feeling of hopelessness often rises from prolonged feelings of fear.

“Many of us are afraid,” she says. “We’re afraid about getting sick. We're afraid that our loved ones are getting sick. We're afraid of losing our jobs. We're afraid of our jobs not coming back.”

With so many reasons to feel fearful, Hartstein says we get started down a negative thought pattern which leaves us stuck in a sense of hopelessness.

3. Loss

With harrowing times comes an overwhelming sense of loss.

“We have lost the lives we knew, and we don't really know when they're coming back, if they're coming back or what the new normal is going to be,” she explains. “Maybe we've lost loved ones to the pandemic. Maybe we've lost loved ones to other illnesses, but we can't honor them in the way we might want. Maybe we lost the opportunity to honor big milestones in our lives.”

Hartstein says that with so much loss comes emotional pain and sadness, and it can be hard to know where to turn.

4. Loneliness

Because of the nature of the pandemic, many are spending more time alone than ever before. “For many people we're alone, and loneliness is one of the biggest triggers to depression and to a sense of hopelessness,” she says.

Hartstein explains that we thrive when we have community, and when we lack that sense of connection with others, we can spiral to a place where our loneliness consumes us.

5. Re-evaluation

Hartstein says it’s normal for many people to be going through a period of re-evaluation to assess what’s important to them, which can highlight areas of disagreement with others in our lives.

“What we're really noticing is maybe relationships that were very meaningful to us are now more conflictual,” she says. “Maybe our sense of safety and our sense of how we're protecting ourselves is very different from others, maybe you believe in the importance of wearing a mask and someone in your life doesn’t. Many of us are also experiencing political divide as well.”

Hartstein says stepping back and reevaluating the things that matter to us may mean ending relationships, and for many that type of change can be overwhelming.

5 reasons you're feeling hopeless and tips from a psychologist on how to break the feeling (Photo: Getty Images)
5 reasons you're feeling hopeless and tips from a psychologist on how to break the feeling (Photo: Getty Images)

So what can you do about it?

First off, Hartstein advises it’s important to validate your own feelings by giving yourself permission to sit with them for a while.

“I'm a big fan of, you get 24 hours of sitting in your emotions and you can wallow and maybe you can give it 48,” she says, “but after that, we have to push ourselves to make change.”

Hartstein says if we spend too much time stewing in our negative emotions, they can envelop us and make it difficult to motivate to make changes.

5 tips to combating hopelessness

1. Find the good

“Everything around us might feel lousy and overwhelming, and you're not getting what you want, but there's probably one thing a day that you can notice that's good,” she says. “Maybe it was a great hug from your kid. Maybe you had a beautiful walk outside where you got to enjoy nature. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering and life-changing. It can be small, but pay attention to it.”

Hartstein says bringing ourselves to notice the good every day, no matter how small, can help sustain us so that when negativity comes knocking, we remember there is still good in our lives.

2. Be mindful

“In order to find the good, we have to be mindful of it,” Hartstein explains. “Allow yourself to drop in and recognize how you're feeling. We want to be able to slow down and be actively present in our lives.”

The more we practice mindfulness, the more we can be ready to recognize moments where we can make positive changes, she says.

3. Embrace the change

“This is a great time to practice psychological flexibility,” Hartstein explains. “There is no other choice. Just when you think you've got it down, the rules change, or just when you think you've got a plan, you have to change the plan.”

Hartstein says that sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is to find a way to embrace our constantly changing lives and try to enjoy the ride. “Sometimes there's nothing else you can do,” she says.

4. Create boundaries

Hartstein explains it’s important to create boundaries of what we are and aren’t comfortable with during this time.

“Some people, they’re going to be like, ‘It’s fine, come over, let’s hug, let’s not enforce six feet.’ And you’re super uncomfortable with that,” she says. “No is a full sentence, and boundaries often start with no. You don’t have to feel guilty about doing what works best for you.”

Dr. Hartstein explains that this is also important when it comes to work-life balance, and it may be helpful to set a time for yourself every day to put your work away. “When many of us are working from home or not in the office, that boundary does kind of become too flexible and we aren’t actually enjoying our lives,” she says, “So saying no, creating a space for yourself, is really important.”

5. Practice radical acceptance

“The idea of radical acceptance is the true definition of ‘it is what it is,’” she explains. “We can practice some of this radical acceptance of, ‘This is how life is right now. It may not always be this way, but in this moment, it is how it is.’”

Hartstein says integrating radical acceptance into our lives can help us separate ourselves from a feeling of suffering and start enjoying our lives more. 

With so many reasons to feel hopeless these days, Hartstein says we have to find it in ourselves to create positive change in our lives.

“There's a pandemic, there's politics, there's racial tension. There's so many things that can consume you,” she explains. “It is important to validate how you're feeling and then figure out how to problem solve your way out of that feeling to be engaged in your life in a meaningful way so that you're not just stuck in your own misery.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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