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7 Steps to Overcome Daily Despair and Start Living Again

Man on Mountain

“If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.” ~Maya Angelou

Have you ever felt really stuck? Like every day was a struggle to get through and you knew in your heart the next day would feel the same?

For the last seven years—since the crash of 2008—I’ve been redefining myself, and it’s been painful.

In 2009 I opened an Internet retail store, knowing nothing about retail, let alone the intricacies of the Internet.

After years of hard work and little to show for it, every day began to feel like total drudgery. Facing daily discouragement and defeat weighed heavily on me.

I began to lose my self-confidence and doubt everything I was doing. I was frozen by the fear of failure.

Every day was torture. Each morning I promised myself I would be productive, but day after day I failed to accomplish even the simplest tasks. Days added up to weeks, and weeks piled up into months of “stuckness,” frustration, and despair. I was literally ensuring my failure. And I knew it.

Despair encompassed every area of my life. I felt like I was thrashing through quicksand. I stopped meditating regularly, couldn’t get enough sleep, and the stress was affecting my digestion and my health. I was in a fog of depression.

Although these issues manifested in my business life, I placed such a focus on making my business succeed that I lost all balance. My personal life suffered greatly. Despair can’t be compartmentalized. It affects all aspects of your life.

Why do we get stuck?

The irony of life is that so many of our problems—the stumbling blocks that hold us back—are often there because we get in our own way. We can create a prison of continued, daily suffering for ourselves. And then all we can do is agonize because we desperately want out.

Each day we wake up in a fog hoping the cloud will lift. We simply can’t see clearly enough to evaluate our problems and realize that each one links back to an action or thought that created it.

If only we could see this, we could untangle the threads and clear up our lives. Knowing the cause can make the problem much easier to fix if we can just get our minds in the right place.

How to Reset Your Mind

Use the following seven steps to overcome daily despair and start living again:

1. Break the pattern.

The first thing to do with any negative pattern is stop what you’re doing. You’ve got to break a pattern to change it. This means emotionally removing yourself from the situation. You’ve got to regroup.

Taking time away is helpful. If that’s not feasible, find a quiet place where you can retreat for alone time during all spare moments. If you have kids, do this while they’re sleeping or safely occupied.

Tell yourself you’re leaving all your worries outside the door and you’ll pick them up later if you decide to. You deserve this time. You need it. Think of it as a gift to yourself.

If you’re open to meditation, this is a perfect time to start a practice or deepen your existing one.

I separated myself from despair during my time alone by admitting that I was torturing myself and not accomplishing anything. I declared that I refused to live like that any longer, and promised I would find a different way.

2. Free your mind.

During your free time, don’t think about problem-solving of any kind. Focus on resting, healing, and gifting yourself with positive, healthy thoughts and experiences.

Change your daily activities from TV and other distractions to calming interests. Take walks outdoors. Read only uplifting things. Catch up on your sleep. Get to bed early when possible.

Clear your mind by practicing silence. Silence does wonders to slow your thoughts and help you to be mindful of the present good moments.

I began to shift my focus to meditation and other down-time activities instead of work. I practiced silence every morning while walking to clear my mind and stay healthy. And I made time for friends and family even when I didn’t feel like I had the time.

I was so relieved that my despair soon began to lift when I stopped focusing all my efforts on work.

3. Collect ideas to kick-start your thinking.

Once you’ve broken your pattern, determine the key issue you’re struggling with and find a high-quality resource to begin collecting ideas.

Are your relationships getting you down? Do you need some spiritual rejuvenation? Is your problem depression? Do you need to learn positive thinking, stress management, or time management?

Plenty of resources to address your problem are at your fingertips on the Internet, in a bookstore or library, at a local group meeting or Meetup, or a seminar. Find something that sparks your interest and has received top recommendations from others, and dive in.

I took an online marketing course to rebrand my business. The instructor planted the thought that I’d be much happier shifting my business into something I was more passionate about.

After listening to me, she suggested that I share what I’ve been doing for years on my yoga path to help others like I was helping myself.

4. Give your situation some preliminary thought.

Armed with fresh ideas and with the new resilience gained from your self-care, begin to gently daydream some possibilities.

This is important. Approach this in a relaxed way—not grasping for answers but allowing them to surface naturally if they do. It’s not even a requirement. This is a creative process.

During this time, I casually ran ideas through my mind to see if sharing my yoga experiences was a possibility. A big part of me wasn’t sure it was right because my practice was so personal. But I loved the idea of turning my passion into my work.

5. Trust the process.

There’s no plug and play solution for transforming despair. Your subconscious, creative, problem-solving mind takes time to process properly.

Be patient. You don’t need all the answers right now—just some starter fluid to get your brain thinking. As with any creative process, the first answers won’t be your best.

Know that the right answers will come in time because you’re feeding your mind and you’ve removed all pressure. If you’re stressing out at all or pushing too hard for answers at any point, back off and resume Step 2.

6. Reset your reality through change.

Once you’ve cleared your mind, absorbed input from a trusted resource, and eased into daydreaming, you can start making some changes in your life.

When promising, unique answers begin to surface, start deciphering the details.

Although the advice you found probably felt uplifting and hopeful, in order to successfully transform your life, you’ll need to put the new ideas into practice. What steps can you take to follow the recommendations?

It took me a full year from the first time I thought about changing my focus to actually doing something about it. The more I daydreamed about what can be accomplished through the ancient yoga teachings, the more it seemed a perfect fit for me to spread the word.

I incorporated my instructor’s advice, and made sharing my yoga journey a main part of my business. This time I consulted respected resources to learn how to do it successfully rather than winging it like I did with the retail store.

Your answer doesn’t have to mean changing your work. My business had to change because it wasn’t working and I was allowing it to cause my despair.

You can change whatever aspect of your life is causing your pain.

7. Trace back to the thoughts or actions that caused your stuck feeling.

Changing the outer aspects of your life is often the best way to uproot despair. But to make the change permanent, it’s important to carefully consider the inner aspects. Identify the thoughts or actions that resulted in your situation to begin with.

For me, my business wasn’t taking off like I expected it to, raising serious issues of self-doubt. Not making it work meant failure. Hadn’t I already failed to hang on to my career in corporate America?

This doubt caused me to spend more time researching what I should do to market the business than actually marketing it. I was always being attracted to the next “best idea.” Fearing it wouldn’t work, I kept searching instead of implementing.

When I finally realized that self-doubt had caused my problem, I was able to start implementing instead of doubting, and complete my healing.

No matter how bad life seems, you can find the way out of despair.

We all need time to rejuvenate, so break your pattern. Take time to reflect on what you truly want out of life and what you must do to get back on course.

The answers often are not complex. They’re just hidden because you lost your focus on what’s important.

Take some time to think about the thoughts or actions that may have led to your despair. Once you identify the problem, with a little guidance you can correct it and completely change your life.

The best part? Your answers will often arise on their own once you devote time to yourself to heal and reflect.

Man on mountain image via Shutterstock

About Jan Tucker

Jan Tucker is an author, speaker, and yogi who helps people transform their lives by returning to basics, finding their inner balance, and living a healthier, less stressful life. She teaches the many “how to live” concepts of the full yoga path. Visit PerfectInnerPeace.com/ebook for a free subscription to her online magazine and the free e-book, “10 Ways to De-stress Your Life Permanently.”

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  • Allison

    Thank you thank you thank you. After a dark night, this article is one of the first things I found this a.m. and offers a glimmer of hope and blessed relief. I can’t put in words how much this means to me.

  • Allison, I’m so happy you found it–and such good timing! Just think what it means when these “chance” events happen. You needed help and it came to you. That type of occurrence is something that has given me hope many times. Just remember never to stop asking!! It’s too easy to forget to ask when we’re in the midst of our troubles! May you find peace and solace soon!

  • Enjoyed reading this post Jan for some encouragement and insights on getting through the days. I’ve found that breaking the pattern and getting out of my head for a few hours one of the best ways to deal with despair. Usually, we continue to endless replay negative thoughts in our mind. Snapping out of it for a bit by reading a book or taking a walk always helps. So does meditation so thank you.

  • Vishnu, I’m glad you can identify with taking a break based on your own experience. This will be encouraging for others who haven’t tried it. It sounds so simple, yet it’s so effective, and we need encouragement to shift when we are down. I’ve also given some helpful tips about positive thinking if you want to check out my home page. May you experience hope and balance going forward!

  • dharma in heels

    Oh my god!!! I am so going through this now. I started a blog where I am exploring all of these steps. The journey is so challenging. Thank you for sharing your insights with us!

  • You’re welcome, dharma in heels. I look forward to reading what you are sharing, too! Yep! Life is challenging, and when we work on our challenges and don’t give up no matter what, we come out stronger on the other side. We can view every struggle from many different angles. Each time we get the same lesson (when that happens) we can learn something new from it each time. Finally, we get the message we’re supposed to get. Freedom! And, on to the next challenge!

  • The path to freedom from despair is, surprisingly, to meditate on the despair itself, to welcome it and not to react against it with aversion or avoidance. Despair can only heal when you truly embrace it with mindfulness.
    The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy