Giving Up On Life: What To Do When We Feel Overwhelmed

by Harley Therapy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

When life presents challenges that seem impossible to overcome, we can be left feeling hopeless and that our life is not worth living. It is common to think about suicide, and many of us will experience an urge to give up on life that eventually passes after a short period.

Even though we may not act on suicidal thoughts, it is important to understand why such thoughts arise and how best to handle them when they appear.

Note: If you believe you are in danger of acting on your suicidal thoughts, please call the emergency services, make your way to your local Accident & Emergency department, or call one of the many helplines available within the UK.

Why would someone want to give up on life?

Many of us will experience a short ‘what if’ moment and briefly consider what suicide may be like. However, individuals in deep emotional distress may feel compelled to act on these thoughts. Research from the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that one million people commit suicide per year around the globe.

Suicidal thoughts can happen to anyone, and many individuals who do consider giving up on life do not actually want to follow through with it. In the majority of cases, an individual will only want to end the emotional pain they are experiencing but cannot see any other way out.

A period of continual suicidal thoughts can be triggered by a life challenge or a particularly difficult time; such as going through a divorce, experiencing a bereavement, losing a job, receiving a life changing health diagnosis, or being the victim of a crime.

Some suicidal thoughts are also rooted in a deep sense of despair and hopelessness that has gone on for a considerable length of time, such as chronic depression or as the result of a personality disorder.

What should I do if I feel like giving up on life?

It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts and the desire to give up on life do not define us as people. Everyone has bad thoughts, and suicidal thoughts do not make us ‘weird’ or ‘frightening.’ If we can recognise that these negative thoughts are only thoughts, we can begin to work towards controlling their power over us.

There are a number of steps that you can take if you are feeling overwhelmed by life:

Unpack Your Thoughts

Suicidal thoughts occur when we repress emotional pain. Allowing ourselves to get rid of this pain in a healthy, safe manner can help ease the distress we feel in moments of hopelessness.

An effective way to clear out negative thoughts can be to write out how we are feeling on pieces of paper that we can then rip up or destroy in some way. This technique is free from judgement and can remain confidential. Our writing can be confused or frenzied, and we do not have to show anyone what we have written.

Focus On Sensations

Bring focus away from negative suicidal thought spirals by engaging with sensations that can be felt in the present moment. This can be done through simple deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, a brisk walk, a relaxing bath, or listening to calming music.

It is important that we do not engage in harmful activities that could make our suicidal thoughts worse, such as indulging in drugs and alcohol or playing sad music and binge eating.

Seek A New Perspective

It is no use asking an individual experiencing suicidal thoughts to be more positive. This can actually be quite offensive, as many people who feel suicidal would love to be able to choose to feel more positive about their circumstances in life.

Instead, it is often better to focus on reevaluating our perspective to overcome suicidal thoughts. The urge to give up on life can trick us into having a limited view of our abilities and possibilities, so it can be important to seek out realistic opportunities available to us and dig out any parts of ourselves that are free from despair.

Ask yourself some questions to gain perspective: “How would I feel if I could wake up tomorrow with a different identity?”, “What would my best friend say if I told them how I feel?”

Balance Thoughts

Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques, we can train the brain to challenge negative thinking and seek out balanced thoughts that can help us find new perspectives.

Write down a short list of your suicidal thoughts, and then write the opposite of each thought beside in a separate list. Then go through the two lists and write down a thought the lands in the middle of these two extreme opposites.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness can help us feel more focussed and connected with the present. Research has shown that it can be used to relieve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Find Professional Help

Psychotherapy can offer individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts the opportunity to share their feelings with an experienced mental health professional in a safe and confidential environment.

A counsellor or therapist can work with their client to identify what might be triggering suicidal thoughts and establish a personalised treatment plan to explore more helpful ways of thinking.

Book a therapist now.

If you believe you are in danger of acting on your suicidal thoughts, please call the emergency services, make your way to your local Accident & Emergency department, or call one of the many helplines available within the UK.

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