I’m not going to sugar coat it. This year, it was a dark summer. Sure, the days themselves were bright… full of sunshine and plenty of opportunities to count our blessings, soak in the little moments and sit in awe of Mother Earth’s beauty. But it was still dark. My family seemed to be surrounded by death, with the old cliché ringing true, “when it rains it pours.” Expected death, unexpected death. Deaths of children, deaths of seniors. The death of a father, as well as a mother. And while death is a natural part of life in that it is inevitable, when it’s all around you, it’s easy to let the dark seep in as it overwhelms the light.
When the hard things in life seem to be on a steady increase, patterns often appear out of the sadness of loss. It’s easy to slip out of your routines. A pizza and some wine cozied up on the couch sounds better than facing the outside world. It’s easy to start worrying about literally everything – both the rational and the irrational. Because you’re trying to grasp onto anything you can actually control, and then feel helpless when you realize so much is out of your control. It’s easy to let yourself go. So you overeat to cope. Or you find it hard to eat because of the pit in your stomach, and then the realization sinks in that you’re feeling only a tiny fraction of the pain that the immediate family of the person who passed feels. It’s easy to get swallowed by the darkness. To start wondering what really matters… overcompensating by only clinging to the one or two people you hold most dear, while walking away from activities you’d otherwise say “yes” to without a second thought, because now it seems too (irrationally) risky.
When these seasons of life happen, it’s easy for me to want to stop right there and be like, “Whelp, that’s all folks…” Leave me be, alone in the dark to continue binge watching Friends in my sweatpants on the couch. But instead, as summer turns to fall and the pain slowly ebbs, I’m going to turn towards the light, because I’m sure there’s someone else out there who could use this reminder as well: This too shall pass. But it’s up to you to pull yourself out of the darkness.
So if this is you, know you are not alone. When you’re ready, here are some helpful strategies to start moving back towards the light…
- Ask for help. You can’t do it alone, even if you’ve gotten really good at acting like you’re hanging in there. Talk to your friends, family, a licensed professional…whoever you can confide in. Get some help finding the light, or at least getting everything that’s bottled up out in the open.
- Lay off the booze. It sure is easy to want to dive into a glass of wine after a long day (week, month, season…). But alcohol is a depressant and can actually induce anxiety and increase stress. You may loosen up or relax for a short while, but the after effects are going to leave you feeling worse. Give yourself some time to detox – do an alcohol free month, and replace it with tea, or green smoothies, or something else that’s going to actually boost your mood. Which leads to…
- Eat some fruits and veggies. Again, it’s so easy to just take in all of the carbs…hospital stays and the weeks following a death seem to be filled with pizza, pasta and sweets of all kinds. A fresh vegetable never tasted so good… Take a hard pass on some of the sweets and go grab some veggies and dip or a great salad. Your body and mind will thank you.
- Move your body. Grieve. Wallow. Cry in your jammies and read a good book in bed. But then move. Get off the couch and put one foot in front of the other. Go out for a walk and take in some sunshine. Work up a sweat at the gym or with a home workout. Take up a new fitness class or get a group of gal pals together to run and build a supportive community. Just move.
- Face your fears. When you’re ready… Say yes to going and volunteering at a place that might open fresh wounds. Say yes to a weekend away, where you won’t be immediately accessible to everyone at home. Let go of the things that are out of your control, and do your best to actually live.
- Practice gratitude. Sometimes it sure is easier to be angry at the hand you or your loved ones were dealt than it is to give thanks. That’s okay. Let it out. “THIS SUCKS!” But then give thanks. Give thanks for what’s left, for silver linings, for a beautiful sunset, for a loving and supportive community, for a rainbow after the storm, for the perspective shift.
- Find your tribe. Whether it’s a girls night every few weeks, a casual bible study group, a fitness club, whatever. Find that community that’s going to lift you up and keep showing up for you, week after week, month after month. They’ll help bring the light.
- Treat yourself. You may feel guilty about it, but try not to allow it to creep in. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself, and you deserve it. Go get a mani/pedi, take an hour for a massage or a haircut. Whatever helps you feel good normally, do it now, even if the thought of making small talk or sitting with your own thoughts for an hour makes you want to puke.
- Treat others. Helping others will always boost your mood. Go volunteer. Treat a friend to lunch or a spa day. Send a “thinking of you” card. The possibilities are endless.
- Let it out. When all else fails and you’re still in the dark, just let it out. Cry, grieve, worry, distract yourself with work, whatever you need to do to get through the day. Then try it all again, because whether all of this really “helps” or not, it will at least keep you moving forward.
So tell me, what has helped you get through the stormy seasons of life? Do you have go-to thoughtful gifts or activities to help those who are struggling in the dark? Leave your ideas in the comments below, I’d love to start the conversation!