You hate your life. Maybe you hate school, hate your parents, hate yourself, or all three. You wonder whether life will ever get any better, or if it will always be this terrible.
Good news first: Life will get better. You won’t always feel this hopeless or helpless. Things will change.
Bad news: You have to change your situation yourself. Here are five things you can do to make your life better—starting today.
First, get up and do something fun.
We know what you’re thinking: getting up from your phone or laptop and going out into the fresh air won’t change anything. Here’s what we’re thinking: it will. Evidence shows that people’s moods actually improve when they participate in something that brought them pleasure in the past. So, for you, this could be listening to your favorite singer on repeat. Shooting some hoops, with or without a friend. Going for a run. Having a barbecue (and then eating your steak). Going out to buy a canvas and painting something you’ll want to hang in your room later. This is what the therapeutic modality Behavioral Activation is all about. We know you want to stay immobile right now and wallow in misery or rumination, but we bet you will feel better once you get up and do something fun or active.
Now, take a dialectical perspective.
Taking a dialectical approach means acknowledging that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. Your pain is valid, period. You are struggling. You’re unhappy with your life. And that is acceptable. We’re not telling you to “look at the glass half-full instead of half-empty” or consider that other people have it worse than you. All we’re doing is telling you to also consider the things going right in your life. Hopefully, you can think of a few things you really do like about yourself or your life—whether it’s a specific hobby you enjoy, a good friend that you have, or even a pet you love. This is the approach of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. So, instead of thinking I hate my parents, think I hate that my parents took away my phone privileges, and I like that they have given me lots of things in the past. Instead of thinking I hate myself, think I’m a kind and sensitive person, and I also need to work on my relationships. Instead of my life is terrible, try school is stressful, and I like my friends.
Consider whether there is something you can change in your life.
Now that you (hopefully) feel a little bit better, think about whether there are any action steps you can take to change the situation you’re not happy about. If you’re struggling with school, can you get some extra tutoring? Just experienced a breakup? Can you talk about it with a friend who will sympathize? If someone at school is bullying you, can you talk to the school’s guidance counselor or even just any adult who will listen? Would your parents consider letting you switch schools? Not every problem always has a fix, but there are often practical things you can do to make every situation a little better.
Get immediate crisis help.
You might have just had a really bad argument with your parents. Perhaps you’re considering running away from home. Or you might be experiencing a tragic breakup. If you’re in a crisis right now and need help immediately, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis. You can also text the Crisis Text Line. This free, confidential resource is open 24/7/365 and offers trained counselors ready to help you with anything you might be going through. The National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY is another resource. If you’re thinking of running away, call them first. They’ll help you evaluate your options and make a plan for how to keep safe. With all of these options, if you don’t want to talk to a stranger, you can always phone a friend who is nonjudgmental and supportive. Try to see if they can help you work through any of your problems or issues.
Seek long-term professional help.
If you feel like you’re always feeling hopeless and negative about your life, consider whether you might have depression or another mental health issue. Consistently feeling down and being unable to participate in previously enjoyed activities are two primary symptoms of depression. If you do have a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, or even a behavioral issue like Oppositional Defiant Disorder, you might need therapy, medication, or even treatment at an adolescent mental health rehab or substance abuse treatment center (or dual diagnosis treatment center). Depending on the level of your clinical acuity, you may need a teen outpatient program (intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization) or full-time residential care.