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A year like no other: 5 ways to navigate the darker days

It certainly has been a year like no other, for every one of us. Many of you have experienced the most challenging time of your life so far. Every aspect of life as we knew it has been affected. Our most basic needs as humans are immensely challenged. For many of us, this is connection. Our sense of safety and security are also a cause of immense fear and worry. In a nutshell, our most basic needs for survival have been under threat for almost a year now! This can have a drastically negative impact on our physical and mental health. The uncertainty of our lives, of our futures, is taking its toll.

On a personal level, my year has been like no other also. Experiencing motherhood for the first time. Amazing and challenging at the same time, especially during a pandemic. The joys and the challenges that I’ve met. Caring for my new baby has created a wonderful new purpose, and sparked an immense amount of joy in my life. However, I am by no means immune to feeling what many are feeling due to our times.

I have a few things to share that have helped me navigate the darker days. I hope that they they give you a little inspiration or a new perspective.

1. Connection

Connection is now even more important than ever! Amazing things happen in our bodies when we have a meaningful connection with somebody! The hormone oxytocin is released, which provides a host of health benefits. Science has shown that this hormone protects the heart from the effects of stress and it acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. This wonder hormone also makes us generally more resilient to the effects of stress. Lower levels of oxytocin are linked to depression and anxiety, so it really is vital for our physical, mental and emotional health to reach out to others. Oxytocin is often linked to childbirth and breastfeeding – where it plays a vital role – but it’s just as important for every man and woman for the reasons above. There’s so much more I could say about the amazing effects of oxytocin, but I’ll save it for another article!

Why not connect with people who are alone, or who are particularly struggling. Simply asking somebody how they are, and really listening, can go a long way in lifting somebody’s spirits. You will also improve your own mental and physical health in offering kindness and connection. As well as oxytocin, other feel-good hormones are released, and the stress hormones are reduced, providing powerful health benefits.

Connection with ourselves is something we can also cultivate with awareness and practice. How can you find that space, and curiosity, to connect with your “true” self? This is often clouded by things such as other people’s wants and needs, limiting beliefs about ourselves, or past experiences. Some ways to connect with our ourselves can be through gentle yoga, meditation, journaling, spending time in nature, and doing something that completely absorbs, even moves us. That may be simply reading something that inspires you, or becoming absorbed in movement, or music, so you just forget about anything else in that time! Is it possible that this time of slowing down, of going inwards, is a gift to help you find who you really are, and to listen to yourself?

2. Enjoyable movement We all know the numerous benefits of exercise. WHO tells us that 30 minutes of some form of exercise, at least 5 times a week, is what most adults need to stay happy and healthy. We are much more likely to just do it when we enjoy it! I love my walks, and have managed to get out most days the past year for at least a 30-minute walk. But on the rainy days, or the days when just leaving the house seems an even bigger task than usual, I put on my favourite dance music and get down to it at home! To get the benefits, you just need the movement to increase your heart rate. I’m a big fan of the power of music and movement, together – dance! It can be a mood game-changer. Go on, you know you want to! Just dance like nobody’s looking!

3. Nourish your body

By nourishing your body with healthy fuel, you’re also benefiting your brain, and your overall mental health. Science is now big on the strong link between our gut health and our mental health. I believe in balance when it comes to our choices and habits. Again, it’s about enjoyment. What nourishing foods do you enjoy? You don’t necessarily need to go vegan, or cut out sugar or wine or whatever, 100%, but, ask yourself what healthy changes you could make towards nourishing your body. Perhaps you could reduce your intake of meat/sugar/processed foods by thinking ahead and organising yourself to cook tasty and nourishing meals? How could you introduce more fibre into your diet?

What other ways could you nourish your body? Maybe it’s allowing yourself time for a long bath, or taking a yoga class (coming back soon!), or simply getting a bit more sleep. Remember, by nourishing your body you are being kind and loving to yourself. Much needed in these times.

4. Create

This is a time to create anything you need. That may well be through an online creative writing course. But I’m thinking along different lines. Create space. We often tend to rush into filling any space in our usually busy, crammed lives. Right now, the empty space in our lives may feel like a void. Can you embrace this void? Can you allow yourself to just feel it, and all the feelings that you may experience, for what it is? Can you acknowledge the fear and the resistance that’s there, and allow them to be felt, rather than pretend they’re not there, or escape to some meaningless task or activity? It’s often in these “empty” spaces that we connect with our deepest, wisest and most authentic part of ourselves. It’s where we can often find solutions to our challenges, or be directed to the right path.

Create purpose. Maybe you need a new purpose to get you through these times. Our purpose is something that can change as we, and our circumstances change. I have quite a few friends who have got themselves a dog or a cat, or both, recently! I also know quite a few self-employed people who have deepened their training, or branched out in some way to create new business, and new purpose.

Create dreams. Our future is uncertain. This has always been true anyway. But creating a dream, a vision, a desire for our future sows the seed for a future reality. Our mind is our most powerful tool. Through visualising and imagining today, we’re wiring our brain to attract that reality for tomorrow. We all need a dream. It may be of that long-awaited holiday. Or that reunion with a far-away loved one. Or to simply enjoy a meal out in your favourite restaurant with friends. Dream it, see it, write it down.

5. Just be!

We are after all human beings, not human doings. The first time I heard this in a yoga class many years ago, it really made me think. Lying there in the relaxing “corpse” pose at the end of my lunchtime class at WHO, it was like being given permission to just “be”, without having any particular aim. Allowing ourselves to take a pause is like re-charging the batteries. We literally allow our systems to regulate back to a balanced state, reducing physical and mental stress and exhaustion. During the past months, we have been perhaps trying so hard to navigate our new “normal” – working from home and all the complexities it brings, zoom meetings, keeping our distance, coping with job loss, looking for a new job, constant news on the pandemic, seeking new business, online courses, the list is endless! Unlike machines, we can’t just press the stop button in our brain, but, we can give ourselves permission at certain times, to take a pause. This may just be a regular, 10-minute pause where you put away the phone, and do whatever else you need to be undisturbed for this time. An online yoga or meditation class may help you do this. Or you can just find a way of sitting or lying down in a quiet space yourself. Nothing to do, nowhere to be, nobody to be. Just. Be.

Remember that these dark days will pass, like every cloud, revealing again the clear, blue sky that we know and love.

I hope that this article provides you will a little inspiration during this, and any challenging time, you're experiencing.

Written by Kerry White

Kerry specialises in workplace sessions to help people feel as well as possible, physically & mentally. Through practical and collaborative sessions, Kerry equips people with effective tools and insights to help them deal positively with everyday stress, challenges and common health and well-being complaints (including backache, headaches, fatigue and anxiety). Her coaching work supports clients to identify, and achieve, meaningful, yet realistic goals.

Kerry has brought her unique practical sessions and talks to numerous top corporates and organisations, including the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, where she worked for many years. She has also held other international corporate roles in sales, MedTech and training. Because she has spent many years working in pressured office-based roles, Kerry understands the challenges many people experience.

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