Lately I’ve been thinking a bit more than usual about the dark. The days are getting shorter, the political atmosphere is tense and some people I know are going through difficult times. We all experience episodes of darkness; periods when we feel down, discouraged, frustrated or hopeless.
There are no easy fixes for truly dark times. Still, I have found a few practical strategies that help me when the world feels particularly bleak. *
Acknowledge The Darkness
The fact that the daylight hours are dwindling is not in my imagination. A quick glance at a weather app can show the shifting times of sunrise and sunset. Trying to operate in December as if the sun were shining as it does in June would be a mistake, and likely result in your crashing into things. It would be better to accept reality and turn on some lights. Likewise, when dark times come along, it makes sense to be honest about their existence and associated challenges. Pressuring yourself to act like everything is perfectly fine will only make you feel worse. Be realistic about the situation and grant yourself permission to wish things were different.
Look For Growth
Everyone knows that plants thrive in the sun, when nourishment is pouring out in abundance. It is easy to be positive when we are healthy, our relationships are strong, our endeavors are going well and we are financially stable. In times of darkness, however, we tend to see ourselves as failures. We obsess about missteps or poor choices, and worry that the suffering will never end. Fortunately, good things may actually be happening even in the midst of the struggle. Most seeds sprout when the heat is on and they are under the cover of soil. Many fungi grow faster in moist/dark environments than in daylight. Anyone who has ever bought potatoes knows they often sprout in the dark back of a cabinet. Though we may never choose them, gloomy times often force us to stretch in new directions, learn new skills and discover previously hidden abilities. When times are tough, remind yourself that this burden may be fortifying your wisdom and strength.
Stressful times make us want to withdraw. We don’t think anyone else can understand what we are going through (which may be true), and we lack the energy to be social. While these are normal emotions, isolating ourselves completely will usually make a bad situation worse. Solitude can result in a loss of perspective, making it difficult to think about anything but our problems. In contrast, spending time with others who are not affected by our situation can open the door to encouragement. Support groups, family, pastors, close friends and therapists can all be helpful as we muddle through. Even a pet can give us a reason to get up in the morning. I recently learned of a program that pairs abused stray dogs with prison inmates who are tasked with training them as service dogs. The dogs receive instruction and care, while the inmates receive affection, respect and purpose. What a brilliant life-saving connection.
Celebrate Every Victory, No Matter How Small
When my first child was born, I was completely overwhelmed. I wasn’t sleeping, I was sick and I felt like I couldn’t get anything done. My mother stayed and helped me for three weeks, and then finally had to go back home. I must have burst into tears and said something like, “I don’t think I can do this.” I’ll never forget what she said: “You have to change the way you assess your progress. Things are different right now. Feel good about everything you can do, instead of focusing on what you cannot. Did you get the dishwasher unloaded? Terrific! Were you able to take a shower? Way to go!” In other words, she taught me to honor each little success and every positive moment. When you are walking through a long/dark tunnel, reward yourself for simply getting out of bed!
Use Your Eyes
Images are powerful. We seem almost hard-wired to respond to what we see. When you are feeing particularly discouraged, think of ways to inspire yourself with images. For instance, write a few inspirational quotes or phrases and tape them up on the walls. Or, display an image on your computer of a “reward” you will give yourself (e.g. a vacation destination or desired possession) when you finally get through this trying time. Anything that makes you smile or energized is a good candidate.
Have you ever noticed how blind you feel when you first move from a bright space into darkness? At first, it seems pitch black. However, after a few seconds, your eyes can adjust as long as there is some source of illumination (the moon, a nightlight, a flashlight, a candle or a cellphone screen…) In other words, a tiny bit of light can overcome a whole bunch of darkness. Doubt is a powerful discourager that whispers the lie that things will never get better. This is not true! It is always too soon to give up hope. Instead, as Winston Churchill said, “When you are going through hell, keep going!”
* * * * *
No one wants to go through dark times, but almost all of us will. How do you cope when life is difficult?
* There is a difference between periodically feeling down and true depression. If your darkness has been longstanding or if you think about self-harming, find a professional or ask someone else to find one for you.
24 thoughts on “When You Are In The Dark”
Definitely appreciate your advice on how to deal with those periods of darkness, especially that last one of trying to have hope to keep going on no matter what.
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I was just reading a quote from Sylvester Stallone who said something like “It doesn’t matter how many times you get knocked down. What matters is that you get back up.” We’ve just gotta keep going and look ahead to brighter days!
This is such a great message! I’ve gone through so many dark moments and challenges in my life, and I’m proud to say that I’ve overcome those, and will continue to overcome. I love the quotes you shared! Right now, I’m taking on a bigger challenge for my future and I hope it will be successful. I’ll always remember to find the light. 🙂
I think we gain confidence when we realize that we have survived dark times… it gives us a bit of perspective, and helps us persevere. I wish you much JOY and SUCCESS with your bigger challenge! You never know what wonderful things may come about:)
Seana- The yin and yang of life. There is light and dark…both offering up their gifts. I love how you’ve stated so clearly that things aren’t always wonderful and that there are figuratively and literally periods of darkness. However, even in the darkest times, you’ve suggested some great strategies and life philosophies to navigate, learn, grow and appreciate. While I absolutely prefer the light “times” to the dark, I recognize the importance of having all types of experiences and stages. I wouldn’t appreciate the happier times if I didn’t have the darker ones to contrast them with. When things are harder, I try to be less hard on myself. You said it too that when things change, we need to adjust our expectations along with those changes. Great post! Thank you.
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I so agree about the dark times helping us to appreciate the good ones. I also see that the rough experiences of my life have helped me to be more compassionate and less judgmental. I still have plenty of “room for growth” on both of these fronts, but it easier to walk alongside someone struggling when I’ve been there myself. Would I choose to suffer? Nope! But I know the hard experiences have value in shaping my character. Being able to look back and see I’ve come through gives me something to grab onto the next time the dark descends.
Love this post on so many levels, Seana! The quotes you use throughout are so spot-on and really drive home your points. I like the reminder about staying connected. The human connection really is a powerful force and can help you gain perspective when you’re feeling low. Also, the point to celebrate every victory is something we all need to remind ourselves to do. Reframing things in a way to see the positives can really boost your spirits.
With your counseling expertise, I’m sure you could add even more suggestions. I am amazed by how much of an impact our mental state has on our productivity. Of course, we can’t control everything we think and feel, but we can take steps like these to make the most of the situation in which we find ourselves. Just this morning I watched a little video about older people being given pets as gifts by family members, and they break into tears of joy. That speaks powerfully about the connection we have to living things!
You are so right. I love the way you’ve crafted this post. I’m going through a bit of a difficult time right now. I keep telling myself it’s always darkest before the dawn. I know this too will pass. There will be an outcome – I just don’t know what it will be and it’s the uncertainty that is driving me nuts. I am moving forward one little step at a time. That’s a good thing.
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I love that you mentioned the heaviness of uncertainty, Diane! We can handle a lot when we know what to expect, but not being able to see how the story will end is very stressful. Sometimes the anxiety about the outcome is worse than the outcome itself. I wish you peace as you move through your trial, knowing that – in one way or another – there will be smoother waters ahead!
I really am inspired by these quotes, Seana, especially the one in the Acknowledge The Darkness section. It’s so hard to admit that there is an issue in your life. It really takes courage to say, “there’s something going on here.” I find that when I admit there is something wrong, the universe helps me find the answer. Definitely sharing this on my Pinterest Inspiring Quotes board.
Thanks for the share, Sabrina. I do think that acknowledging the issue can take some of the power away from it. We can waste a lot of time and energy hiding our problems, and trying to seem like everything is fine. Not only does this do little to address the problem, but it drains us of energy and can make us feel even more alone.
Such a wealth of encouragement! Having just gone through a very tough time, I truly appreciate this The second quote, “Once you’e been in the dark, you learn to appreciate everything that shines.” And staying connected with others has been so important in addition to sometimes simply going through the motions of “normal.” Almost like muscle memory, going “normal” reminds me of what “normal” feels like.
Such a wonderful observation, Susan. Sort of a “fake it ’til you make it” way of proceeding. Just going through the motions is about all we can do sometimes. Hopefully, things will adjust and we can enjoy the peace of a new “normal.”
I love that to appreciate the light you must acknowledge the dark. Your quotes resonate with me in that I find hope is answer in these dark times. Being the light is another way of sharing that hope. I know that you are making a difference being the light for others! I am grateful for our connection
I love our connection as well, Ellen. I know you and those around you have really been walking through the darkness that Harvey cast. When the adrenaline runs out, it can feel like life will never return to normal. I am thankful that YOU are shining a light down there, being that voice of hope to those who need to hear it!
Yes, it is quite literally darker here (here in the UK we set back our clocks last week) and winter is definitely a time when you notice more people feeling down, particularly around the holidays. I think spending time and staying connected with supportive others is always one of the best ways to cope and try to feel better. Being hopeful is also important and appreciate the Churchill quote at the end 😉
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We turn the clocks this weekend and then it will be dark before 5pm… makes it hard to stay productive. I always coach students to try and do their hardest homework before the sun sets because we do tend to lose focus under artificial lighting. I love that quote from Churchill; I think of it often!
These are all great points. Some times it’s hard to stop and count our blessings when we feel like our world is falling apart, but talking about it and doing something different that day to break up the routine—it really helps.
Now that I think about it, laughing is another way to deal with darkness, right? I know you’ve made me laugh on some rough days, Marcia, for which I am very grateful:)
When times are tough, it’s more important than ever to focus on the things we’re thankful for. Last November, I went through the worst experience I’ve ever had in my business, but at the same time, I participated in a “30 days of gratitude” photo challenge. Taking even a few minutes each day to think about the positive things in my life helped me to keep on keeping on, despite everything else.
Thankfulness is definitely one of the most powerful weapons against discouragement. Most of the time we can find things to be thankful for, even in our darkest moments. It does take intentional effort to be positive, and we may not feel “up,” but at least we can maintain some perspective. That was a very rough experience you had… I remember reading about it. Sends shivers down my spine!
Encouraging post Seana! So many times we think we have to stay in the darkness without realizing that there are ways we can embrace it for good. Thank you for the inspiration 🙂
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It can be VERY HARD to be positive in dark times, but it is worth the effort. I was just watching a sunset and realizing it is the clouds that make it truly beautiful!