Over many years of dealing with challenging experiences (read: really unbelievably difficult stuff that breaks you down before it builds you up!) I’ve learnt a thing of two about dealing with ‘dark nights of the soul’.
When I’ve felt cast adrift by life and at a complete loss as to how to find my way back to the safety of the shore, I have found some survival techniques:
1. Allow Yourself to Sink
Sometimes, in the midst of tough times, we make things worse by telling ourselves that what we are experiencing is wrong. We judge our situation. We judge our feelings. We judge our bodies, our pain and our coping skills. And we find ourselves lacking.
We say we shouldn’t be feeling what we are feeling. We shouldn’t be having this experience. We don’t deserve this. And anyway, what is wrong with us that we can’t just cope and get on with it?!
We fight and rail against what life has dealt, constantly refusing to accept the hand we have been dealt. Constantly looking for instant remedies.
But you might have noticed that one of the counterintuitive laws of nature is that acceptance leads to change.
We think that it’s the opposite: that if we accept what is right now, then it will never get any better. So we resist and fight.
But when we are fighting against ourselves, who wins?!
We have to first fully accept and allow our lot before we can see the light. We have to first let go. Stop splashing and flailing about and instead allow ourselves to sink down. Down into the dark waters we were so afraid of.
Be still. Allow the darkness to wash over you. Give yourself permission to let go. Allow the feelings you are feeling.
It’s okay to feel sad. Really sad. It’s okay to feel angry. It’s okay to feel deep, deep despair.
This too will pass. These feelings will pass. The energy of the darkness will pass through you and give way to light.
Only when we surrender to death can there be a rebirth.
2. Nourish Yourself with Good Food
It’s tempting when you feel so bad to medicate with food. We’ve all sat on a couch, cried our eyes out with a tub of ice-cream and a family-size bar of chocolate. It’s fills us up momentarily, but 30 minutes later we feel just as bad.
When you are going through tough times, it’s especially important to keep up a healthy diet. Your body and mind are under stress and they need extra nourishment right now to stay on track and keep you going.
Some things to remember:
- Your digestion may be weaker now, as our as digestive systems are often the hardest hit by stress. Eat slowly, chew well, breathe deeply between bites…and get a sense of what food is working for you right now and what is proving too difficult to digest.
- Get plenty of nourishment by eating fruits and vegetables at every single meal…and for snacks.
- Make sure to get your stress-busting Omega 3’s from 3-4 servings of oily fish per week. If you are veggie/vegan, you will need to take spirulina or chlorella.
- The GOOD news is that dark chocolate is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety (I think we knew this all along?!) But it does need to be high quality chocolate and at least 70% cacao.
3. Nourish Yourself with Stories
I have found that escaping into stories of those who are going through similar struggles as myself to be really therapeutic. When my parents’ marriage was falling apart, I couldn’t get enough of movies and books about dysfunctional families! It made me feel less alone and that there could be a happy ending eventually.
Or just watch or read a comedy. Cheerful escapism also works wonders and makes you feel like everything will get better at some stage.
4. Be Kind to Yourself (and Even Kinder Still)
Think of how you would treat a friend who was trying to survive tough times. Or a little child who was struggling and scared.
However kind you would be to those two people is how kind you need to be to yourself – every day. Treat yourself with complete love and compassion. You are doing your best in a very difficult situation.
Self-compassion needs to be a daily practice for you to feel the benefit. Do one thing every day to spoil yourself and be good to yourself. Ask yourself: “What do I need to comfort myself today?” and do it.
You might want to meet with your friends, you might want to take a long bath, you might want to go for a massage…you might just need a hug from someone you love.
5. Allow Others to Be There for You
We can’t do this alone. When you are trying to survive tough times, it can be tempting to curl up into a ball and keep everything to yourself. You feel so fragile and like no one can possibly understand how you feel.
Life crisis can bring introspection. But don’t go completely inside. Choose the friends and family you can trust – who will be there for you in a crisis. And let them in. Share your thoughts and feelings. Hear about their lives. Allow yourself to laugh at silly stories and cheesy movies together. You might surprise yourself and find you can still feel happiness in the middle of your pain.
6. Seek Help
Whenever I am struggling, I turn to reiki, massage or acupuncture to get me back on track. Taking time out to tune into yourself and calm your body and mind will give you strength and clarity. You will come out feeling better able to cope with what life is throwing at you.
7. Be Still
Take time every day to just sit with yourself. You do this through meditation, prayer, taking a long walk in nature or taking a bath. Turn off your phone. Breathe. And just be still.
While stillness and quiet can feel really uncomfortable sometimes, they are the only true way to connect to your inner knowing. Persist through the discomfort. After a few minutes you will begin to feel a calm descend over you. And then a joy.
This is your true self. Underneath all the tumult on your outside and in your head, there is always peace and joy available to you inside.
What are your thoughts on this? Are you in the middle of managing a tough time in your life? What are you doing to care for yourself? What have you found works for you in the past?
I’d love to hear.