5 Tips on How to Thrive During Dark Times

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My entire life, I felt a strong connection to Sweden. In 2016, I left it all : the ‘’safe’’ career, the apartment, the car, my students, friends, family and connections I cared deeply about to propel myself into uncertainty. I knew that I would need to adjust to the culture but I would have never imagined that the weather would be an issue since I was moving from Canada. However, it wasn’t the cold winters that were the biggest challenge ; it was the darkness. In November and December for example, there are very few hours of daylight, if any. Part of Sweden’s charm though is that you can see electrical candlesticks shining through the windows of almost every home. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, the Swedes celebrate Advent, which means arrival ; where they light the first candle on the advent candlestick. It is a sign that Christmas is coming ; but for me it was a reminder that this period too shall pass and that there is light at the end of this tunnel.

Now, you don’t need to have lived in Sweden to know what it is like to be in dark place in your life. Life has its seasons too and we can’t always be in that blissful, flowing and energetic state. These dark periods are usually a space where the days overlap ; time seems to be frozen and you may even want to hibernate indefinitely. You might feel heavy, isolated, sad, hopeless, depleted or all of the above. So what can you do to make this time not only more bearable but also move through it with grace and energy? Over the years, I have actually learned to not only appreciate, but also embrace the dark seasons in life as a time to go inwards, slow down, heal and reassess.  Hopefully these five tips will help make your journey a little brighter.

Acceptance

There are days when I want to move to a tropical island – Maybe you can relate too? Yet, when I started to become attuned with Nature’s or life’s seasons and stopped trying to resist reality, it became much more manageable. If we really listen, the change of seasons brings a necessary shift not only in terms of weather, but also in the energy inside of us and around us. The fall for example is a harvesting and gathering time of the year and it is a time to pay attention to our own thoughts and feelings. Just like the trees, we have the opportunity to shed the layers of what we have accumulated throughout the year – that which no longer serves us. It is time to sit with our own thoughts, disappointments and feelings. Perhaps we have been feeling a certain way about a job, a partner or friend and it is time to acknowledge those feelings. Maybe we realize that we have been taking on too much for too long ; perhaps we need to accept that we too are changing. Transitions are uncomfortable but they can become a beautiful catalyst for the change that needs to happen. During this time there also seems to be a need to slow down, rest, ground and go inwards. We tend to try to push ourselves through life at full speed until we eventually crash.  For many years, I overstretched myself ; juggling jobs, studying, dancing and taking care of others.  I was burning the candle at both ends and my body payed a heavy price. The takeaway should be that what we resist or ignore not only persists but it continues to grow like bad weeds. In other words, if you are cursing the darkness or pretending that it’s business as usual, you might actually be making it worse. When I take the time to slow down and attune to the season, I feel intuitively that I am in the right place. It’s a sense of congruence or wholeness. That is usually when my greatest insights about life, relationships and career emerge. What shows up might not be pretty or convenient but there is nothing more freeing than living your most authentic life and knowing the truth. You become unstoppable, doubt starts to fade and magic starts to happen.

Nourish

It is no surprise that many of us feel fatigued during the dark seasons. We might need to accept that our bodies and minds need more rest, but it may also be that our diet isn’t giving us what we need. Modern technology and global trade has allowed us to have access to all types of foods all year round, but that may not be in our favor. Mother Nature is very cleaver and understands what our bodies need at different times of the year. Autumn for example gives us rich and dense foods that need to be heated such as whole grains, squashes and sweet potatoes. The Winter is often a time for rich, warm and heavier foods that protect us from the cold. If you are indeed feeling tired, it can be really helpful to eat a diet full of easily digested complex carbs. I am of course not talking about sugar or processed carbs (aka junk food). Whole grains such as brown rice and starchy vegetables create wonderful sustaining sources of energy known as ATP. Carbs have gotten a bad reputation in the last years, but healthy complex carbs are loaded with essential nutrients and fiber that nourish us, improve digestion and help balance our blood sugar levels (which is key in maintaining energy). Of course, every person is a little different so listen to your own body and stick to whole foods as much as possible. Eating too many processed and chemical laden foods causes the liver to overwork and can make you even more tired.

It is also likely that you have heard of the need for vitamin D during winter season but did you know that studies have shown that people living in the Northern Hemisphere are Vitamin D deficient for several months of the year? Vitamin D is essential for several important functions in the body such as bone health and immunity. Also, there is increasing evidence that there is an association between Vitamin D insufficiency and depression.   The National Institute for Health recommends 600 IU’s per day of the sunshine vitamin for adults up to 70 – although this could differ according to your country, so please check. Also, increasing the amount of B vitamin’s is helpful for converting carbs, fats and protein into usable energy. Taking a B-complex supplement has been a game changer for me during the most hectic times in my life. I believe that not enough attention is put on the level of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) in our bodies yet the body needs them to carry out many functions. We are eating plenty but somehow many of us are still malnourished – that is our bodies are starving for these precious gems of nutrition. However, if you are chronically exhausted, it is best to visit your medical health professional. Personally, I have greatly benefited from visiting a Naturopath who helped me understand the importance of nutrition as well as creating sustainable and positive lifestyle habits.

The Thing About Coffee

Swedes are one of the biggest coffee consumers in the world, so I know they will not be thrilled with me for saying that your caffeine consumption may actually be making you more fatigued. Caffeine is a nervous system stimulant and produces a temporary increase in mental clarity and energy levels, however it has several adverse effects. Caffeine stimulates the adrenals and initially lowers blood sugar levels, often leading to hunger or cravings for sweets. The rapid spiking and dropping of blood sugar levels often leads to tiredness, making you want to drink more. Caffeine is also a diuretic, leading to loss of liquids, minerals and vitamins that the body requires to function optimally. The other issue is that the amount needed to create that initial ‘’kick’’ effect increases with regular use and eventually we need the drug to function. So if you cannot live without your coffee, make sure you are taking a basic vitamin and mineral supplement, drinking enough water and keeping your blood sugar levels steady. I have found that the more balanced diet I consume with enough healthy fats (including nuts, seeds, avocado and healthy oils) combined with enough rest, the less caffeine I need. Matcha, green or herbal teas can be wonderful alternatives and offer many health benefits!

Breathe, Revitalize, Move

Ok this one is straightforward: we need to breathe deeper! Oxygen is the most vital nutrient, yet most of us are shallow breathers and do not use its energy potential. Deeper breathing energizes our bodies. Often when I am teaching a group, I am amazed to see the immense tension people hold in their chest, shoulder and rib area. That is why I like the ‘’neutral’’ Pilates position lying on your back with the knees bent or legs supported. This allows you to be in a tension free position, which then allows for the ribcage to move more freely.  The movement of the ribs should be three-dimensional – think like a balloon filling up with air. Try to relax the neck and shoulder muscles. We really just need to notice the breath for it to naturally become smoother and deeper. It’s a free mindfulness practice that you can implement at any time.

In these dark times, we may feel the need to slow down but the human body is meant to move – think of it as essential as eating and breathing. Even if you are feeling tired and lethargic, there is a movement routine out there for you that will fit your mood as well as uplift and energize your body and mind.  I recommend finding a mindful movement practice that focuses on breath and posture. It doesn’t have to be high intensity to give us major benefits – remember that a little goes a long way. Whether it is Yoga, Pilates, Garuda, Dance or Tai Chi ; choose something that lights you up – soon you won’t be able to live without it! Good posture also helps us breath better, invigorates us and improves how we feel about ourselves. Another bonus is that these mindful practices make us aware of our tensions and blockages; which can then be released by movement. Muscle constrictions are costly in terms of energy. Don’t get me wrong, I do like an upbeat and intense workout but just like with our lives, we tend to be forceful with our bodies. Add stress to that and we become walking balls of tension. I always notice how peaceful a person is by the way they move and carry themselves with flow and ease. Make sure you schedule in the time though ; when I am tight on time, 15 minutes is all I need to make a world of difference.

Remember That the Light Will Come

Whether the darkness is literal or figurative, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the layers of our own despair – but I promise that these feelings will fade if you let them. You don’t need to have a plan or all the answers as to how you will make it through. If there is something I have learned it’s that the human spirit is infinitely resilient. Consider the idea that the light cannot exist without its opposite – like night and day. And just like a plant, the light needs us to nourish it for it to grow. What you focus on has the power to change how you feel. I used to ask myself over and over ‘’why me? Why did this happen?’’. After years of self-torment, I realized that none of those questions were useful or even helpful. When you get sick and tired of being at a dead end, you need to start asking yourself better questions.  For example: what do I have right now in this moment that is good? What do I truly need in this moment? What lights me up? What can I do right now to bring me a little piece of joy or happiness? It can be the smallest of things: lighting a candle, petting your dog, cuddling up while sipping a cup of your favorite warm drink… Bottom line ; Ask powerful questions. Notice. Listen.

The darkest times of my life are the reason why I am able to savor the most ordinary moments ; why I see the miracles of mundane acts of kindness and love. They have made me incredibly resilient and forged the strength of my character. There is nothing more powerful than someone who has been broken to pieces in their darkest moments and built themselves back up. I embrace the darkness because I know that at the end of this road there is always a rainbow, you just need to have a little faith.

‘’Only in the darkness can you see the stars’’ – Martin Luther King. Jr.

I really hope this helps.

All my love,

Lena B.

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