We’ve all felt like throwing in the towel when life knocks us down. Whether you are dealing with shame, stress, burnout or financial difficulties — or just feel like no matter how hard you work at something it never seems to make a difference — that overwhelming sense of despair can be hard to shake. And if you’ve caught yourself thinking, “I feel like giving up,” you’re not alone.
A recent study published in American Journal of Public Health found that feelings of despair and hopelessness are on the rise, particularly among individuals approaching middle-age. That’s why we asked the experts for their spiritual and emotional solutions to boost our perseverance and restore hope.
1. Put regret in the rear-view mirror
There are many reasons for wanting to give up, and if one is because you are ashamed and regretful because you let yourself or someone else down, pastor Max Lucado, Senior Minister of Oak Hills Church in San Antonio and the author of the new book God Never Gives Up on You, urges you to forgive yourself. “It’s so hard to move forward when we do things we regret, but if you have to tell yourself, ‘If God can forgive me, why can’t I?’”
He promises the key to such self-compassion is acknowledging your mistakes. “Tell yourself, ‘I acknowledge I messed up; it’s in the past now and I’ve learned from it.’ There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror: The future is bigger than the past and self-forgiveness helps you see that even if we did something bad, you are not bad, and you should never give up on yourself.”
2. Ditch ‘add-on’ blame
When we find ourselves in choppy waters, struggling to stay afloat, it helps to take a moment and make sure we’re not making things even more difficult by “adding on” distorted, negative thoughts, says expert Sharon Salzberg, a meditation pioneer and author, most recently, of Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World. “Notice when you’re thinking things, like, ‘I’m the only one going through this,’ or ‘This is all my fault.’” She explains such thoughts that add to our sense of isolation, or that make us feel like our setback is permanent, only make what we’re experiencing feel insurmountable.
“Instead, come back to what’s actually happening right now by asking yourself what you feel in your body or taking a few deep breaths,” she advises. Experiencing the moment, without tacking on self-blame or judgmental thoughts, helps us maintain a more objective perspective of our hardships and begin to problem solve.
3. Discover ‘you’ emotions
One of the biggest reasons we end up feeling like giving up is that we’re simply depleted — or emotionally and physically exhausted. “That’s why it’s so important to look for tiny hits of positive emotion that will reenergize you,” says expert Karen Reivich, PhD, co-author of The Resilience Factor and the director of training at the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “Ask yourself which core emotion is quintessentially you, from gratitude to curiosity, and find a small way to feel that every day.”
She explains that when we think ‘I feel like giving up,’ we often lose touch with what makes us who we are and pinpointing the emotion closest to our heart will energize our mind, body and spirit. “For example, I really connect with ‘awe,’ and every morning, I ask myself, ‘What’s beautiful here?’ to ground myself in this emotion,” Reivich says. “Just seeing the reflection of flowers in the windshield of a parked car or the surprising patterns the moss makes on the ground helps inspire me to keep going.”
4. Tap true optimism
Rather than slap on a fake happy face when you’re feeling defeated and thinking ‘I feel like giving up,’ Reivich encourages harnessing the power of true optimism with two simple words: yes, and. “Tell yourself the truth: ‘This is hard; I feel so anxious.’ That’s the ‘yes’ part,” she says. “Then add a ‘comma’ to that ‘yes’: ‘And I have two really good friends to rely on.’ Or if you feel like throwing in the towel at work, you might say something like, ‘And we’re going to be a better team six weeks from now when we will have navigated this challenge together.’” Admitting the challenge without glossing over it ignites ignites resilience and self-belief.
5. Control the ‘controllables’
When grappling with a big challenge, “Ask yourself, ‘What’s one good thing in this sea of struggles I’m in?’” says Reivich. If we’re already overwhelmed, our brain makes us focus even more on the things we can’t do anything about, she explains. “I use the word ‘surrender’ a lot.” For example, you might say to yourself, “It would be great if layoffs weren’t on the horizon, but I have to surrender to the fact that they may be coming.”
She explains that the words “surrender” or “let go” act as pivot points, helping you find the thing you can change. Whether that means updating your resume if you’re facing work challenges or picking up the phone to call a friend if you feel lonely, just taking one small step can make a huge difference.
6. Remind yourself of your strength
It’s simply a fact that we’re stronger than we think we are: “Just remember, every time you tell yourself ‘I feel like giving up’ that you’ve survived every single one of your difficult moments,” declares Salzberg. She adds that reminding yourself that hard times, though challenging, are often temporary can help you persevere.
“If a friend were sitting next to you right now, revealing how she feels like giving up, you might say something like, ‘Things are rough right now, but this won’t last forever.’” She advises turning this advice back toward yourself, by saying, “‘This too shall pass,” or “I only have to experience one moment of this at a time.” Looking back on how you got past setbacks will help ensure future success.
7. Reap the power of connection
There’s no faster way to get out of a hole than by reaching out to helping hands. “When you feel like giving up, find someone who’s overcome something similar to what you you’re going through, and ask them how they did it,” encourages Lucado, speaking from hard-won experience.
“I’m a converted drunk,” he reveals. “When I was in my 20s, I was hiding it, but what I needed was someone to tell me not to resort to secrecy — it’s time for honesty.” While thankfully most of us won’t go through such a hard time in our lives, the lesson Lucado learned applies to all of us when we think “I feel like giving up”: “Lower the mask and find help, whether it’s from a pastor, a friend or a therapist. When you’re honest about who you are and what you’re going through, someone will be able to help you.”
8. Create your ‘bounce back’ list
We all have a deep reservoir of resilience within us, but when life gets overwhelming, we tend to forget the activities that help spur us on, observes Salzberg. That’s why she recommends jotting down two columns: in the first, write what you do to gain perspective and recharge, and in the second jot down how you feel about it.
For example, in the first column, you might write that you love being on the water or kayaking, but in the second column you might reflect that you haven’t done this in years. Or you might write that you tend to drink when you’re stressed, for example. “This simple exercise can help you realize that you don’t feel great about that, and it may help you find better ways to cope. Stopping and reflecting on what makes you more resilient will reveal surprising truths that will help you persevere.”
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This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.