Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, while serving as President of Brigham Young University, once said, "a problem that is universal and that can, at any given hour, strike anywhere . . . is a form of evil. . . . I speak of doubt—especially self-doubt—of discouragement, and of despair" ("For Times of Trouble", BYU Devotional Address, 18 March 1980). The scriptures speak of hope as an anchor to the soul. I submit that if hope is an anchor to the soul then doubt and despair and discouragement is an anchor limiting one's progression in this life; none will accomplish anything while despair rages.
I feel impressed to mold the remainder of this essay on a talk given by President Ezra Taft Benson. It is titled "Do Not Despair" and can be found in the October issue of the 1986 Ensign magazine. He writes, "To help us from being overcome by the devil’s designs of despair, discouragement, depression, and despondency, the Lord has provided at least a dozen ways which, if followed, will lift our spirits and send us on our way rejoicing." We will next examine, from both historical accounts and from scripture, some ways to eliminate fear, doubt, despondency, depression, and self-loathing.
God only answers prayers that are sincere; for a prayer to truly be sincere the person praying must have evidently endeavored to right his life, or to repent of his sins. Moroni 10:22 tells us that despair comes because of iniquity - and only because of iniquity. Whether that iniquity is an actual sin (such as pornography), or a sin of omission (such as skipping school), despair eventually comes.
Let me illustrate. According to President Oliver Cowdery in Messenger and Advocate, July 1835, p. 157, when Joseph Smith was walking to the Hill Cumorah, he thought much about the Gold Plates and how they could alleviate his family from abject poverty.
President Cowdery explains that Joseph Smith tried three times to lift the Plates from their burial grounds, but was literally shocked each time. Joseph Smith then exclaimed "Why cannot I obtain this book?" The Angel Moroni then appeared and said, "Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord" (Messenger and Advocate, Oct. 1835, 198). In other words, even Joseph Smith, the Lord's chosen Prophet to the last Dispensation, had need to repent. Now, the above event described by Oliver Cowdery occurred when Joseph Smith was just 17. Apparently it took Joseph four more years to fully repent, receive tutoring from the Lord, and prepare himself before he could receive the plates. We must therefore ask ourselves, as the Apostles did at the Last Supper, "Lord, is it I?" What must I change in order to more fully gain thy Spirit back? Truly repentance prevents doubt!
The Lord gives some specific guidance on health, and how it can counter despondency and depression. "Cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated. (D&C 88:124)" When one sleeps either to much or too little, it is harder to find the desire to be up and doing at the start of the day; plus adequate sleep stems off sickness and disease, and therefore, despondency. Joseph Smith the Prophet was a model of physical health: he loved physical exercises, like wrestling and pulling sticks. Because of his physical stature and physical fitness, he was also able to escape his enemies from time to time. Elder Parley P. Pratt wrote, "President Joseph Smith was in person tall and well built, strong and active; of a light complexion, light hair, blue eyes, very little beard, and of an expression peculiar to himself" (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, 45-46). President Joseph F. Smith said of his uncle the Prophet Joseph that the Prophet had fun "in playing ball, in wrestling with his brothers and scuffling with them, and enjoying himself" ("Joseph, the Prophet,” Salt Lake Herald Church and Farm Supplement, Jan. 12, 1895, 211). Thus was the Prophet an example of good health to all who knew him.
I love to read. Whenever I am downcast, I go to a quiet place and open up the Book of Mormon and begin to read. Each time I do so, although I may not yet be in the mood, the spirit of doubt, fear, depression, and despair leaves and the Spirit of the Lord enters in. Truly the scriptures are a great healing balm.
I also read histories whenever I can. It inspires me to learn of the mistakes and foibles of the past so that I might learn from them and ever increase in wisdom and understanding.