Holding Back the Darkness in the Struggle

Young African American Couple Walking In Countryside

Life can be difficult… confusing… seemingly unfair… heartbreaking. The darkness of pain, discouragement and uncertainty can spiral into a black hole that can feel inescapable. Yet we often turn a blind eye to these realities in our world of health & wellness coaching, choosing instead to focus our attention on “optimal” or “glass half full” or “chin up!” language. Those phrases resonate wonderfully when life is on cruise control, but what about when a tragedy strikes? Or a crisis hits? What then? 

 Maybe you’re there now. I am. Confused… discouraged… low energy. The motivational posters in our gym fall flat. The energizing videos meaningless. But in the midst of what’s happening, I know it’s important not to go down a dark hole personally. Even though I may not be myself, we need one another on multiple fronts right now and if that means battling to show up as a 3/10 (vs. a normal target of a 9+/10), so be it. 

The crazy thing about life is that the choices that benefit us most are seemingly easy when life is good (and those benefits may be marginal) and exponentially difficult when we’re struggling. With that in mind, I’ve tried to identify 10 specific steps (in no particular order) I’m taking – steps I really don’t feel like taking right now! – to provide a buoy to keep from drowning in the negatives, a touch of light in the long, dark days. I’m hopeful maybe something here can provide the same for you, a friend or one of your health & wellness coaching clients.

  1. Get outside EVERY single day. Maybe it’s to dig rocks or maybe it’s a short walk. But no matter how much I feel like sitting behind computer screen, I’m scheduling at least a little time outdoors each and every day.
  2. Fuel effectively and consistently. I love ice cream & right now I just kind of feel like comfort foods would be… well, comforting. That’s understandable (& fine within reason) but not a helpful habit right now. Keeping the ice cream stock in house down (gone) and tuning into extra nutrients throughout day is critical.
  3. Move 60+ min daily in some format. An Achilles issue has sidelined my running routine & I don’t really feel like exercising now anyway. That doesn’t matter. Without exception, I do SOMETHING active 60 min. daily: weights, hike, ride, yard work, etc. It may not be up to my regular standards but it’s something!
  4. Time w/ family & friends (and especially Suzanna) discussing OTHER things besides what is naturally dominating our thoughts 24/7.
  5. Consistent sleep schedule. My mind wanders at night and it’s as tempting as ever to push that chatter back with another TV show. However, I know sleep is critical to, well, everything right now. So while I can’t control actual sleep, I’m making sure to get a minimum of 8 hrs TIB (time in bed) with the same start time each night.
  6. Dog time. Our Aussie Sky is already a key part of our lives as “empty nesters.” But I’m purposefully spending more physical contact time w/ her (belly rubs, hugs, etc). She’s a great listener & often is one to pull me outside (frisbee, etc.) when I don’t otherwise feel like getting off the couch.
  7. Alcohol awareness. Sneaky one. I’m tired, low energy – what’s the harm of a 2nd glass (or more)? I’m home so it doesn’t pose any risk to others. Why not just one more? There’s a slippery slope that doesn’t benefit anyone (including me) in the midst of all that’s happening right now so making sure some nights each week are alcohol free and monitoring closely overall intake.
  8. Journaling. Sometimes this involves just sitting with an open journal and pen in front of me and writing very little or nothing. No expectations – just the opportunity to collect thoughts and sort things out that are much more jumbled in my head than they are on paper.
  9. Grateful heart. This might be most difficult one for me as this doesn’t seem “fair.”  However, we’re grateful for so much, including the proximity of family, available resources, sunrises and more. Trying not to forget those in midst of everything happening is meaningful.
  10. Healthy distractions. Rather than more Netflix or time on social media, I’m trying to instead be purposeful about making time for healthy distractions. Writing passes the time quickly (and hopefully helps others) as well as reading and working on projects that engage my mind in a meaningful way have been valuable. 

While I’d typically like to wrap this up with some words of encouragement such as “you’ve got this!” or “it’s always darkest before the dawn,” I understand that’s probably not what you (or I) need right now. We don’t know what’s coming next. But we do know that we are needed – that our presence (even if sub-optimal right now) matters. Let’s keep moving, fueling, connecting and resting in the best ways we know how right now – together.

P.S. Catalyst Community: I’m sorry for my vagueness surrounding our specific situation right now as it’s not the time to share details. However, each of us have “stuff” and potentially the general nature of the above will more effectively resonate with your situation or those around you at this point than specifics would provide.

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