Health & Fitness

Learning to Manage Feelings of Despair

Factors like health troubles, financial difficulties, emotional traumas, and looming deadlines can despair. For some people, mental health issues compound these feelings. Sometimes, even the thought of getting through the day can spark dread.

Regardless of the cause, there are solutions. Lifestyle adjustments and management strategies can help people deal with feelings of despair and may even prevent or decrease the need for pharmaceutical help.

Mindfulness and Meditation

One of the most accessible methods for improving mental health is practicing mindfulness, usually through meditation, yoga, or similar activities. While mindfulness isn’t a quick fix, and the exact process varies from person to person, it generally involves focusing on the present moment and learning to accept what is happening.

Studies show that practicing mindfulness and mindfulness-based interventions can reduce feelings of despair and other symptoms of anxiety and depression.

smiling woman enjoying the sun; mindfulness

Hobbies

Having a hobby or interest outside of classic responsibilities is another method of combating feelings of despair. A study of people working over 60 hours a week found that those with hobbies outside of work had far fewer symptoms of poor mental well-being.
Another study had similar findings which also indicated that hobbies protect against future symptoms of depression and anxiety.

smiling woman planting a houseplant succulent

Gratitude

Though it can be difficult to feel gratitude when feelings of despair seem paramount, research shows that this is one of the most effective options. A 2016 study focused on two groups who were receiving treatment for depression and anxiety. One group wrote letters expressing gratitude for various aspects of their lives. The group that wrote these letters was able to feel more gratitude for longer periods, which provided future mood boosts.

It is not necessary to write a journal or letter every day, some research indicates that even once a week is enough to help. The goal is to get into the habit of thinking about the things you are grateful for.

woman writing in gratitude journal

Nutrition

Following a healthy diet can help with feelings of despair, depression, and anxiety. While the research is ongoing, most experts agree that skipping or cutting back on refined sugar — from foods like sweets and soft drinks — can be helpful.

Plus, many experts find links between gut health and mental health conditions. While the exact mechanisms are still unknown, research suggests that a healthy gut microbiome could inhibit symptoms of depression.

smiling mother and daughter making salads

Exercise

Strong evidence indicates that any form of regular exercise is an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Not only does physical activity stop a person’s current mindset from worsening, but it can also prevent minor depression from advancing to more severe depression. Exercise enhances brain chemicals called endorphins that cause a sense of euphoria.

smiling women jogging together

Identify Triggers

Recognizing what triggers feelings of despair or similar emotional states is a major part of learning to manage them. Work and school environments are common stimuli for many people. Look for patterns and then, if possible, take the steps necessary to resolve the issue.

Often, this is easier said than done. After recognizing the trigger, try using other management strategies, such as finding others who experience similar problems.

woman speaking with an hr rep at her work

Social Connections

Many people with mental health conditions isolate themselves from friends and family. However, social isolation can dramatically increase the risk of depression while also making symptoms much worse.

It can be difficult to gather the energy to socialize, especially when experiencing feelings of despair. One solution that experts recommend is joining a group that shares a strong passion for something. Volunteer groups, hobby clubs, and sports teams are all great choices.

group of friends hiking club

Seek Out Therapy

While there are significant sociopolitical barriers, therapy and counseling can be valuable tools for people with the resources to access them. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and similar treatments can help clients learn skills to recognize and manage their symptoms. These therapies encourage people to challenge their self-defeating thoughts and adjust behaviors that may contribute to feelings of despair.

man speaking to a psychiatrist or therapist

Defining Despair

In most contexts, despair is seen as a synonym for depression or anxiety. But modern researchers suggest redefining despair into a unique condition. Experts have recognized that throughout the years, periods of extreme stress and hopelessness caused much higher premature mortality rates. These “deaths of despair” were largely the result of suicides, drug poisoning, and alcoholic liver disease. They had direct links to education and income levels, pointing to overarching systemic factors.

upset man with head in hands

Effects of Despair

Despair has mental effects similar to those of depression, but people who feel despair also tend to experience greater levels of pain. Additionally, research shows that lower-back pain among people with lower education has become more common in recent years and no factor fully explains this increase. This has led to more prescriptions for painkillers or a search for alternative options, resulting in a dramatic increase in overdose deaths. While experts still do not fully understand despair or its connection to conditions like depression and anxiety, the effects are clear and dangerous.

man sitting on bed in the dark, depression concept

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