Don't let the D's (Depression and Despair) get you down!

Despair can be defined as the complete loss or absence of hope.  Are you there yet?  The sources of despair are many.  It can come after a significant loss or after smaller losses that seem to pile up.  It can be caused by battling situations in your life that never seem to let up.  Despair and depression can be exacerbated by loneliness which affects 20% of Americans and has been rising in significance during the pandemic quarantine.  

Have you lost hope?

If you've struggled with binge eating, food addiction or emotional eating for some time, you may find that the stresses and isolation of the quarantine have worsened your symptoms, Or  you may have had other life challenges show up during this time that made you feel as if you can only expect negative things to happen in the future. You may also feel that you are helpless to make any changes in your life.

Or maybe you’ve been on the diet treadmill most of your life and you feel hopeless that your food and body image issues will ever change to your satisfaction. This is a train of thought that can lead you to depression and can negatively affect your self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Hopelessness has repeatedly been shown to affect overall physical and mental health and well-being.

If you experience high levels of hopelessness or despair in your life, you are much more likely to develop high blood pressure or heart disease or to have a stroke.  This can make you feel trapped or overwhelmed.  Hopelessness and despair can also make you feel as if it's useless to work on making peace with food and your body and you may find yourself falling back into old familiar eating and thought patterns because of it.

Having courage in the face of difficulty is not always easy.

According to author and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, if you have purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of life’s difficulties, your life will have meaning which can also decrease hopelessness and despair.  You can find meaning in many aspects of your life and also in suffering. The way in which you address suffering in your life is what gives life its meaning, according to Frankl.

If your life feels out of control or over-whelmingly stressful or if you feel backed into a corner with nowhere to go, I would urge you to remember that you still have the freedom to choose how you respond to the situation you find yourself in. As you choose how you respond, as you dig for courage to heal, and as you care about others and perform meaningful work, you can reduce hopelessness by nourishing your spirit.

Hopelessness and despair both stem from spiritual depletion.  Below is an exercise to determine whether you may be experiencing spiritual depletion and what the cause of that depletion may be.

EXERCISE #1: From the list of spiritual depletion signs below, identify the ones that you currently experience.

  1. melancholy or despair
  2. feeling tired for no reason
  3. a lack of joy
  4. inability to make decisions
  5. chronic negativity
  6. addiction or abuse of food or other substances
  7. feeling alone and isolated
  8. trouble with motivation
  9. restlessness
  10. feeling nothing matters

EXERCISE #2:  Look at the list below and identify possible causes of your despair / spiritual depletion:

  1. chronic stress
  2. grief or loss
  3. chronic illness
  4. sudden changes in life
  5. isolation or lack of social support
  6. Other

Nourishing your spirit is not something you learned to do in school or at home.

Nourishing your spirit should be part of your daily rituals.  It shouldn't be just an intellectual pursuit.  For example, you can read a book about meditation, but that won’t give you the changes in your brain that meditating will.

If you find yourself feeling hopeless or in despair, you might think back over the situations or circumstances that have made you feel hopeless or in despair.  Are these situations ones you can let go of?  If not, you may consider:

  • seeking professional counseling
  • seek out a minister or other counselor to talk to
  • journal about what you are feeling
  • make a pros and cons list for letting go of past hurts, losses or other causes of despair and spiritual depletion.
  • increase self-care - find activities you can do that help replenish your spiritually (get a pedicure, take a bubble bath, take a walk in nature, listen to music, spend time with friends
  • Use complementary alternative therapies - acupuncture, supplements, mindfulness, massage, yoga, etc.

Hopeless and despair can be helped and daily small actions are the key.   If you do something every day, even if only for a short time each day, you will build a strong foundation to face life’s many challenges, rather than using sandbags in the middle of a flood of stress to shore up your depleted resources.  Try out different things, practice them and continue to use them - even before you get depleted.  Keeping your spirit nourished is the best way to avoid the pain of falling into hopelessness and despair.

Hope this helps!

Dr. Carolyn

PS - Have you heard about my free book  of The Food Addiction Recovery Workbook give-away?  I pay for the book, you pay for postage.  You can get your free book here: