Despair is real. It is the complete loss or absence of hope.
It is a feeling – I feel despair. We feel despair.
It is an action – I despair. We despair.
We can feel it for a moment or a season. It can seem constant, or we can bob in and out of this feeling. It is common to all humanity, and it is painful. Despair is often accompanied by feelings of doubt, frustration, helplessness, uncertainty, sadness, grief, fear, exhaustion, or isolation. Like all feelings, it calls for us to pay attention inward, and we often resist doing this because it hurts. We hope for an escape or strive to avoid it, but escape or avoidance can make it feel larger and more powerful than it is, to begin with.
You are seen
To the person feeling despair at this moment, I say: You have value. You have value simply because you breathe.
There is nothing you can do to decrease your value. You have value simply because you breathe. You could commit a thousand crimes or never contribute to the wellbeing of another person again, and this would have an impact on yourself and the world around you, but would still not decrease your value.
There is also nothing you can do to increase your value. Again: you have value simply because you breathe. You could earn a Nobel Prize or build a grand Fortune 500 company, and this would have an impact on yourself and the world around you, but this still wouldn’t increase your value.
Each of us has value simply because we breathe, and we are worthy to understand despair as part of the spectrum of feelings we’re capable of experiencing.
You are worthy to find and have support to walk alongside you as you look for understanding. You do not have to escape or avoid despair for it to feel less heavy. Every burden is lighter when not carried alone, and there are literally thousands of dedicated counselors who would be honored to walk alongside you in this (over 60 here at PTS)!
In the meantime, we all have an emotional toolbox. Here are three different tools to try if you are feeling despair:
1) Eat; sleep; breathe.
When feeling despair, we may forget or have little-to-no desire to do these things. We may overeat, undereat, or eat things that do not nourish our bodies and souls. We may have late nights or restless nights or disrupted nights. We may have shallow, panicky breathing.
- Eat mindfully.
- Sleep enough.
- Breathe deeply.
Our brain, heart, and gut cultivate neurotransmitters that help soothe and support in times like these – eating, sleeping, and breathing are core activities to support this.
Even as you read this, try a deep breath. Right now. Breathe in slowly. Breathe out a bit slower. Notice how it feels to take a few deep breaths.
2) Try out the morning.
Sleeping during the day is not the same as sleeping at night. Sleep science believes this has something to do with circadian rhythms– our body and mind’s connection to nature and sunlight. I often hear people describe themselves as ‘exhausted’ and ‘irritable’ after sleeping all day from a long night spent awake.
It may feel good momentarily to stay up late, but we could be missing out on some natural soothing that comes with the morning! (I am now proposing a change in sleeping patterns, which can be jarring, so proceed gently…this is no early morning boot camp or roll call!)
This is about the morning sun: morning sunlight is a valuable medicine. Most plants outside crave the morning sun, and humans seem wired this way as well.
Find a window in your residence that points eastward, toward the rising sun, and allow yourself to sit in it. Or grab a chair or a blanket, and sit outside in the sunlight. Eat while basking in it. And breathe. Close your eyes, and notice if you can feel the light on your skin.
Take a short morning walk– or a long one. Use your five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch) to observe things around you. Plan some tasks for the day ahead: laundry, phone calls, shower, creative project. Use this time to read or journal.
Then proceed gently with your day.
3) Turn it into meaning.
Your lowest moment does not define you. Neither does your highest. Sometimes, life’s changes call for us to reevaluate how we define ourselves. Some things we experience can be harder to accept than others. And some changes can seem near impossible!
Feeling despair might be your heart’s way of urging you to change course or reevaluate your priorities. It may be pulling you to figure out what you need to feel safe or what you need to feel hope. It may be inspiring you to slow down and take notice of yourself or others or the world around you.
Every feeling has a purpose, and by understanding the purpose of feeling despair, we can make meaning of it in our lives.
For some, this is where their understanding of their faith comes in. Faith can help make meaning of life experiences, especially painful ones. Feeling despair can be where we recognize if our particular beliefs need some reevaluation in light of our current experiences. Perhaps, our faith is changing and growing in the midst of all of this.
If any of this resonates with you, share it with your counselor or someone you feel safe with! Connect with Perspectives Therapy Services if you need additional support or ideas.
You have value. And you are worth it.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.