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8 Surprising Ways To Pull Yourself Out Of A Dark Place

11/25/2015 03:38 EST | Updated 11/25/2016 05:12 EST
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Woman With laptop at night

A few weeks ago, I was in an extremely dark place. When you've survived trauma, it's unnervingly easy to slide back into the depths. When I tumble into that headspace, there are a few things that can almost always pull me back out. Hopefully they might be helpful for you or someone you know.

1. The Healing Power of Pinterest.

In the newest Hunger Games film, Mockingjay, Part 2, Katniss Everdeen talks about how she deals with trauma:

I'll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I've seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It's like a game: I do it over and over.

When you are down, it's hard to see any good in the world. No matter how exhausted I am, however, I can always muster the energy to scroll through Pinterest to see photos of inspiring quotes, people's creative endeavours, and French bulldog puppies wearing pyjamas. Seeing the best that this planet has to offer always makes me feel better. When the Belgians were asked recently to avoid posting anything online that could hurt the police hunt for terrorists, they flooded social media with funny pictures of cats. There is something quite defiant, as well as uplifting, in focusing on the good in the middle of darkness.

2. Take a Social Media Holiday.

Social media offers a peek into the most surface aspect of people's lives and, as Anne Lamott urges, we should not compare our insides to other people's outsides. When you are feeling blue, the last thing you need is a deluge of airbrushed photos and humble-brags from people you barely know. Unless you have brutally honest friends who write openly about an alcohol-soaked Uncle Louis hurling a flame-engulfed turkey at Uncle Pete, it's best to avoid social media when you are sad. Take a social media holiday: it's super trendy and it just might save your sanity.

3. Hit the gym.

When I'm down, all I want to do is watch a holiday movie marathon while mainlining chocolate-covered almonds. I've learned that it's important to keep active, however, especially if one is prone to the mean reds. I'm a fan of a class called Group Blast. Actually, I'm not a fan at all. I hate going, but I always feel a million times better after it's done. It's a step class and I have zero coordination, so I can't think about anything else when I do it. It's like cardio meditation. And the music is upbeat. It's hard to be down when you are doing reaction squats to Pitbull's "Fireball."

4. Reading or watching something sad.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but when I'm down, I like to seek out a sad book or movie. I recently read the beautiful book, My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh, and it was just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes it's nice to give yourself permission to feel sad, or angry, or anxious and transfer your feelings to an external source like a movie or book that has a clearly defined ending. The key to this is to read only one heart-wrenching book or watch one sad film. If you find yourself watching The Fault in Our Stars on a continuous loop, it's time to watch something funny, go outside, or call your doctor.

5. Cleaning or tidying something.

I had a flower bed that had gone to seed, so a few weeks ago I pulled out everything and turned the soil. There is something beautiful about the concept of tabula rasa: a fresh start. Clean out your closet, mend what needs to be mended, or tidy up that junk drawer in the kitchen. Putting order to things makes you feel like you have some control over your life. That can be a powerful feeling when other things are going sideways in your life.

6. Exercising patience.

I am the most impatient person in the world and when people tell me to be patient, it makes me want to clock them. But some healing simply requires time.

Canada's newest Health Minister, Jane Philpott, wrote a beautiful essay about dealing with grief that followed the death of her daughter:

I have an enduring memory of the line-up of people who came to greet us that morning. There was a queue of townspeople and hospital employees -- some of them knew us personally and others had heard the news and wanted to bring greetings. That was the day I learned a common Hausa greeting at a time of mourning. One by one they shook our hands. With tones of sympathy and empathy, they said to us: 'Sai hankuri.' This means: 'There is only patience.'

Sometimes, you just have to try to wait it out until you feel better. As they Persian sufi poets promised, "This too shall pass."

7. Reaching out.

There is such stigma about being anything other than eternally cheerleader-perky, but everyone has dark times (I don't know a single 80-year old who has had an entirely charmed existence). If you are sad or mad or anxious, don't keep it secret. Tell a friend or your doctor. A bumpy road is less miserable when you are not walking it alone, plus a third party can help provide you with the perspective you might lack.

8. Ensuring that life goes on.

Cook the meals, wash the clothes and make sure kids get to their activities. I'm a big fan of a fresh coat of lipstick and wearing a very nice coat. Acting as if things are good puts you on the path to making things better.

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