Alternatives to Despair


In light of the news of the day here in the United States, I’m taking a detour from our journey through Thirtysomething Panic, and hoping to make a tiny difference in your day (and in mine) with a tool you can use if you are feeling despair, grief, rage, or fear—or file away for another time, if you don’t need it today. 

On a day on which a fundamental right has been taken away and others may be under threat, amidst so much other tragedy and suffering in the world, it is easy to despair. Here are some ways we can and do respond when despair beckons.

If you take just 10-15 minutes to complete the prompts, you’ll have a menu of options to choose from anytime you find yourself sliding into despair, doomscrolling, or intense emotional stress.

Option 1: Feel and Directly Process

It is important to feel and process our feelings. Think about how you process. It might be journaling about the situation and just letting it all out on the page, talking to friends or family, making art and pouring your feelings into it, discussing with your therapist or coach, playing music, dancing, or crying: whatever you can do to move the feelings and thoughts through your mind, body, and heart. Time you use to release your feelings with intention and acceptance is time well spent.

What are some ways you can process your feelings?

Who can you reach out to?

Option 2: Avoidance/Numbing/Distraction/Replenishment 

Avoidance is human nature, and it takes healthy and unhealthy forms. There are times when doing something for the express purpose of taking your mind off of things can be a supportive act of self-care, and can refresh you so you can face your situation from a state of replenishment. This can be particularly important for those of us who tend to get stuck in rumination. Other times, our methods of distraction, numbing, and avoidance only make things worse, stop us from facing things we need to face, or create additional problems. 

Make a list of ALL the ways you tend to avoid, distract, numb, or shift your attention away from sad, scary, or worrying things. Include those that feel helpful and healthful, and those that don’t.

Next, put a *star* next to the ways that are nurturing, restorative, healthy, or have a net-positive impact on you and/or others. Put (parentheses) around those that are harmful, unhealthy, depleting, or have a net-negative impact on you and/or others.

Now, add any additional ideas for positive ideas you could try to help you take a mental and emotional break from the issue at hand.

Option 3: Activism/Advocacy/On-Topic Intentional Action 

This approach is to take direct action related to the issue that is triggering despair. Use this situation as a catalyst to take action to make things better. Make your drop in the ocean of change.

What’s one tiny action you could take on the topic of the event or situation that is triggering despair? 

What are some organizations you can support, protests you can attend, or voices you can amplify? What acts of advocacy can you take?

How else can you channel your sadness, fear, and anger into meaningful action to create the world you want—even in very small ways?

Option 4: Purpose-Oriented/Off-Topic Intentional Action

Another approach is to give your attention, time, and care to something unrelated to the topic at hand, but connected to your values or purpose. When you nurture something you care about—even something that seems very small—you channel your feelings into positive action and energy in the world. 

What’s your mission or purpose in the world, that’s already in motion? Who are you here to help? What small action can you take towards that purpose right now? 

Who do you know personally who you can directly support or uplift today—even in some tiny way? 

Whose day can you brighten? How can you help to make someone know they matter?

You did it! You’ve just made yourself a menu of alternatives to despair. Reach for it as often as you need it, and you’ll both take good care of yourself and channel your energy into tiny positive actions on even the darkest days.

Hope this helps, even a tiny bit. 

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