By Ahmad Jabir Tarin
Throughout life human beings face an array of challenges ranging from family, work, social, spiritual-religious, and other interpersonal stressors. In the midst of the intensity of those challenges a feeling of hopelessness can emerge for many of us. Hopelessness can be described as the overwhelming feeling of dread, gloom and doom where individuals may not see any light at the end of the tunnel to their suffering. This can be exacerbated by stress, defined as: the discrepancy between perceived available resources and the environmental demands placed on an individual. In other words, when people feel they don’t have enough resources to deal with their demands. This ongoing feeling of inadequacy in meeting such demands can breed pessimism about the ending of their suffering/stress. Sometimes it can be accompanied by a sense of desperation.
A common experience of hopelessness can occur when responsibilities begins to pile up leading to a feeling of being overwhelmed/over-exertion or simply fatigue. Stress is designed to be a short term experiential feeling of hypervigilence that is functionally designed to help us increase our level of energy (i.e. increasing more resources) to meet our demands. However, when it continues for a long period of time, it simply produces exhaustion and can lead to many adverse health problems. According to research done by Professor Liisa Terrill, she found that background stress i.e., more than 2 demanding tasks such as being a stay at home mother, a student, or employed at the same time significantly increases stress levels for women which could lead to a higher risk for coronary heart disease. For many, it can feel like your psychological resources have been exhausted and you are running out of steam. This can lead to a desire to want to give up and just let it all slip out of our hands. Feeling that you are stuck in an inescapable situation whereby investing in one area causes other demands to continue to be unmet and your inability to effectively and efficiently multitask all items continuously.
Consider, the sense of personal inadequacy and disappointment one can feel if they always feel like they are never able to keep up. In fact, according to Steeg et al., in a recent journal published in 2015 in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the researchers found that hopelessness is the most commonly diagnosed mental health disorder leading up to self harm (neglecting self-care due to burnout). It is evident by this that psychological research finds that individuals experiencing emotions of hopelessness have a higher risk of inflicting harm on themselves or those around them, simply looking for an escape to life’s problems. Most forms of hopelessness can be common and impact us psychologically, but if you start to notice the following signs (clinical), then it might be wise to seek assistance through therapy: trouble sleeping, feeling sad/depressed all the time, no enjoyment, losing interest, lack of hygiene, feeling trapped, despair, or excessive guilt. As Steeg et al., concluded that the best initiative for caring for individuals with hopeless behavior is therapeutic intervention.
However, for most of us it may never get to that clinical threshold, so here are some therapeutic strategies one can take to overcome this through Spiritual Coping.
A form of coping that can be integrated is Spiritual Coping. From amongst the many Prophetic discussions in the Islamic tradition, is hopelessness. In fact, consider that anxiety or stress usually centers around the FEAR of what might happen in the future. That is, if I do not clean up my act or meet the demands of my environment then what will happen? Usually we have many concerning thoughts/cognitions that accompany this, keep us up at night. Such as the possibility of not being able to meet our finances, not finishing school, disappointing family members, and the list can go on and on. One therapeutic tactic is to consider WHAT IF. That is, SO what if I do not meet a particular demand? Will it truly be the end of the world? This cognitive exercise can be combined with, a verse in the Quran regarding an incident of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s) and his noble companion Abu Bakr (r) taking shelter in a cave, fleeing from prosecution. In this verse, Allah (s) narrates the response of the Holy Prophet (s), “…Do not be sad, for indeed Allah is with us!” We can understand that there is solace in recognizing that you’re really not alone. There comes a feeling of encouragement and strength that is attained from knowing that Allah provides a way out of the most difficult situations. This verse also goes to show that at some point the noble companion Abu Bakr (r) had a fear of feeling hopeless in a seemingly difficult situation i.e., being persecuted, but the Holy Prophet’s (s) honored words and presence gave him contentment and ease of mind to know that Allah will protect and care for us. The reminder comes to help us DE-catastrophize the REAL possibility of what might occur, as we tend to over-exaggerate the negative implications of most events. This creates a vicious cycle which leads to over-escalation and catastrophizing.
If we take a deeper look at our own lives and the way we perceive things, we can take a step back and focus on our thoughts. We could ask ourselves if we’re approaching the scenario in the right way? Perhaps I am being ineffective in my approach. This kind of reflection is adaptive or in other words USEFUL. As opposed to kicking oneself about the outcome or their past actions. An example of this would be like a person who applies for a new job. They take the appropriate steps to prepare for the job, they prepare their resume, they wear the correct dress, and they have a good interview. But lo and behold, the hiring manager tells you, you did not get the job.
Immediately the first response is to be let down, and internalize the inability to secure that job as a personal fault. So you begin questioning and doubting yourself when in reality it was something you could not have done any better because you tried your best. A better approach would be to sift through what actions you did before the interview, work on a new approach, and with confidence go for another interview. Instead of looking at it as a failure, change your perception of the situation and consider it another opportunity for you to get better at interviews so by the next interview you’ll do even better and hopefully land the job.
Bearing these important concepts and principles in mind, any person feeling hopeless should confide in the knowledge that indeed all difficulties do come to an end. A useful concept that can be practiced is ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. This theory outlines the fact that the happiest people and most resilient people in the world are those that have ACCEPTED the reality that life carries with it anxieties and difficulties. They are not surprised by it and have come to accept this reality. Its about acceptance rather then striving for a life of being worry-free. It is about changing our perceptions and expectations about reality. And that the propagation of pessimistic thoughts tend to lead to an even darker mental state that in turn can be a cause of physical detriment to ones self.
Staying positive is essential to combating hopelessness and having certainty that truly Allah is on my side. It is natural for human beings to feel hopeless during difficult times, however we should be cognizant of the reality of hopelessness. One positive approach one can take is to reach out to their social circles for support, such as a group of friends, colleagues, people at your local gym etc. There is no shame in reaching out during trying times, as it is a normal experience for human beings to experience. It can drain you and sidetrack you from your goals and objectives in life. Making an effort to defer the sense of hopelessness and instead use that moment as a catalyst to boost oneself both spiritually and physically.