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How to Get Through Tough Times When You Are in Despair

How to Get Through Tough Times When You Are in Despair

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.[1] 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.

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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:

  1. Take a look at your life and ask whether there are any ongoing physical, external issues in your environment making things worse.
  2. Examine your diet and lifestyle for factors affecting your wellness (more on this soon).
  3. 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.

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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:[2]

“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:[3]

“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.[4]

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:

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“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.

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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.

Final Thoughts

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

Reference

More by this author

Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Future

How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Future

We often hear people talk about the importance of living in the present and the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, especially the lower levels of stress and anxiety, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly worrying about the past or plans for the future?

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then, we’ll look at some of the obstacles and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.

The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.

The Importance of Living in the Moment

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” -Buddha

While it can be difficult to live in the moment, it has innumerable benefits.

Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:

Better Health

By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being[1].

Improve Your Relationships

Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally s/he’s a million miles away?

Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and building relationships with them extremely difficult.

How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with her/him because we can make a much deeper connection.

By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.

Greater Self-Control

You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier[2].

Why Do We Worry?

Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.

When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then, once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.

Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.

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Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.

3 Steps to Start to Live in the Moment

Step 1: Overcome Worrying

In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:

Calm Your Mind

When you calm your mind, you are able to see more clearly.

The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. Then, we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.

In addition to seeing more clearly, a calm mind will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions, allowing you to live in the present.

Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems

Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.

People with more education tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.

If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.

Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment

In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, as well as outside influences.

Racing Mind

Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.

You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.

If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down.

Unpleasant Situations and a Troublesome Past

None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.

So how do most people cope with painful emotions?

By doing whatever we can to avoid them, we can take our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.

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In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.

Some people resort to things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as food, alcohol, or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.

A Wandering Mind

From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. Therefore, it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.

Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. One thought starts an endless chain of thoughts, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function or get distracted with something else.

Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities[3].

Outside Influences

Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The media draws our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future[4].

Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.

Step 3: Practice Mindfulness

So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?

Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.

Understand Mindfulness

The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful is to live in the moment.

When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment, and you are fully in touch with reality[5].

You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.

This may be counterintuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then, much of our understanding will come from simple observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.

To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.

If you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you live in the moment.

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You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you and suit your lifestyle.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.

Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.

You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to start spending time away from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.

This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.

If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article: What Is Mindfulness Meditation? 7 Ways to Start Meditating

Mindful Breathing

While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.

You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.

Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)

Mindful Walking

Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting or calling someone while walking. But are we really?

Instead of getting on your cell phone or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking to train yourself to live in the moment and focus on the task at hand?

Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing, but instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.

You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.

In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable and can really help your mind settle down.

You can discover more benefits of walking in nature here.

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Mindful Eating

Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. Therefore, many of us try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.

The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level[6]. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.

Live in the present with mindful eating.

    Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss[7].

    So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:

    • Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
    • Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself.
    • Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.

    You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating

    Mindful Activities

    Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander,. When it does, just bring your attention back to washing dishes.

    Notice some of the specific movements or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.

    You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.

    Final Thoughts

    Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time, and this will add up to greater peace and happiness, as well as get you closer to achieving your goals.

    Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.

    Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning, but I can assure you it will get easier.

    The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying. When you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.

    More About Living in the Present

    Featured photo credit: Smile Su via unsplash.com

    Reference

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