A love letter to self-care & acceptance
I am sure I am not wrong when I assume, that all of us have gone through bad and even dark days. I think we can call that life. Bad and dark days are still no fun, that’s for sure. But I have come to appreciate the powerful lessons, I learned from my really bad and dark days.
2020 or, as I call it, the year that keeps on giving. Wow. More often than not this year has been throwing some serious curveballs. For me 2020 has been awful and awesome both at the same time. And those two sentiments are closer together in many lives than one might think. However never in a world would I have expected for them to be that close with that level of intensity as experienced this year thus far.
Thankfully I have developed some techniques (tools if you will) to get me through challenging times. Because I did not grow up in a golden cage and had my fair share of challenges throughout my life. One of my tools are routines. Routines can be very powerful in keeping us sane in crazy times. Something to rely on, when nothing seems to be reliable anymore. I am sharing my thoughts about routines in this blog post here.
I am glad I also unlearned one of my previous less healthy habits I used to default to, when things got crazy – “comfort food”. No such thing exists, really. Check-out my story that led me to this very firm belief. Bottom line is, don’t turn to food for comfort in dark days. It’s not a candle in the dark, it’s a very short match, that will be gone rather quickly and might burn your fingers in the process.
So how am I usually getting through bad days or dark times? It of course depends on the situation, but moving my body is normally somehow involved. My husband, our lovely pooch Sam and I are usually starting our morning with a 30 (ish) minutes walk. No matter how I am feeling mentally, I am not skipping that walk. Being able to move my body makes me feel better. I learned this from our Labrador retriever Sam. I learned this rather quickly, when we got him 5 years ago. He demanded his outdoor exercise and my existence as a couch potato would never be the same. Thankfully!
The other benefit is, he is super cute and a great distraction. As is a walk with him and my husband, where we can chat about plans for the rest of the day or week. Or just silently walk next to each other enjoying the shenanigans the pooch comes up with on a regular basis. It’s the company that matters. Which is another one of the powerful lessons I learned from my bad days.
I am making myself a priority. Our lives are busy, as is my job. But I am trying to squeeze in enough time to walk around, go on walks with the pup, swim in the pool and so on. All of this has to do with moving my body for me, but the message behind this is, that I am making myself a priority.
I love my work and sometimes if my day is bad, I try to just focus on my job instead of the (unhealthy) thoughts rushing through my mind. Focus is our friend during bad days. Being able to focus on the “right” things is important though. You could also focus on having a bad day and things can spiral out of control rather quickly. So focusing on something I am enjoying as much as I do my work, helps me.
These past couple of weeks here in the US have been tough for me. Disclaimer, I am going to talk about a topic that could be considered politics in the next paragraphs. I personally consider it humanity rather than politics, but for some this will be the same difference. I am writing this in italics so if you prefer to skip that part, just skip ahead.
The election 2020 has been a tough time for me personally and definitely the unworthy end to four very challenging years of the Presidency of a person, that, in my humble opinion, does have zero regards for humans or humanity. And this is in no way, shape or form about democrats or republicans. At all! I absolutely do respect different opinions – as long as they do allow for respect for the same as well.
Watching democracy play almost no role for many, many Americans made life in the US quite challenging for me. I am from Germany and my ancestors have lived through one of the darkest of periods, where democracy was absolutely absent. It’s been hard for me to watch history repeat itself. It was a very long week until the President Elect and his VP were called. Time that gave my coping mechanisms a run for their money, for sure.
So I focused on my work, which I continue to enjoy. As a people leader to my team, but also our servicing partner, it’s an important part of my role to “unite” instead of divide. And so I was able to do in a smaller scale, what this country so urgently needs on a much, much broader scale. The focus on my role and my responsibilities helped me through some rather bad and dark days. And through the suspense.
In general, on bad days, I like to focus on the things I can control. When things get really bad, I am actually making a list of the same. Making this list (mentally or literally) helps direct my focus on the positive things vs. the rushing thoughts or the nagging mental pain. Or, and I am saying this as a woman of 45 years, when the hormones take over of my brain and mood.
While no and I mean literally no man gets to ever use this against any woman, PMS (premenstrual syndrome) is a thing and when hormones take over, it normally does not lead to an overflow of joyful thoughts. The opposite is usually the case. The chemical reactions of our body can lead to an actual and rather serious depression. Understanding what happens is also one of the powerful lessons I learned the hard way.
In any of the situations above, if things get really dark in my mind and the day is turning super bad, I am using self care (making myself a priority), distraction (focusing on something I usually enjoy) and focus on controllable things (making a list even) to get through. And of course I am following my routines as routines do provide comfort. I am usually strong on innovation and trying something new. A “bad day” is probably not the best time to do so. I will postpone anything new and adventurous to a better time, when my mind is going to be open for it, too. Until then I stick to what’s familiar and hence comfortable. No sense in leaving my comfort zone when I am feeling bad already.
In order to be able to shake a bad day or make it through a tough time, you need some good night sleep. Falling asleep is often the challenge, when there are those dark clouds in our head. Don’t try to ignore the rushing thoughts in your mind. It won’t help! But you do have to get off that train, that’s for sure. If you want to sleep at all at least. So what to do?
Visualize an actual train. You jumped on this train at the “nagging, negative thoughts running wild” station. Accept that. But set yourself a time limit, i.e. 5 minutes, for the ride. Spend 5 minutes purposefully going through these weird, horrible, awkward, etc. thoughts. When the 5 minutes are over, say out loud “stop, this train ends here, everyone please exit now” and visualize your train as it reaches it’s final destination and then visualize yourself exiting the train. As you step on the platform, your thoughts will be gone.
This is a technique that can do wonders in stopping that horrible rush of thoughts, that can otherwise keep the toughest person up all night. Been there, done this. But ever since I made peace with it happening and allowing it a limited amount of time, I have been able to control it.
The emphasis is on “allowing it”. It puts you back in charge vs. “it” taking over your mind. Makes it much more controllable, if you do not consider yourself a victim of your thoughts but rather the conductor of that train. Conductors are usually not getting run over by their own train.
During the day, you can either use this visualization exercise, or you can just literally get out. Out of the situation that allows for the rushing thoughts and into a new scenery. That’s why I am such a big fan of moving my body. Another tool I have been using a lot during this pandemic is “baking”. No this is not a euphemism for some fancy technique. I am talking literally baking. Working the dough and focusing on the recipe is a great way of getting my mind off anything negative. Everyone is different, you must find what works for you, of course.
Sometimes all it needs is some good old venting. I have been with my husband for over 20 years so by now, I am able to just vent to him. But a word of warning – woman usually only want to vent, men think they must solve. Choose your venting partner wisely or you might get even more frustrated! Another one of the powerful lessons I learned from my really bad and dark days, that for sure.
But if you have a bad day, talking about it with a confidant is definitely a good idea. Does not have to be long, sometimes just an open ear and a few friendly words can do the trick. Nothing better than someone lifting up your spirit, when it’s down.
Self-care, making oneself a priority on a regular basis, company and someone to vent to are all great techniques. And as with almost everything, they are a muscle that wants to be trained when you are not injured, so they can take over functions your injured “soul” can’t handle when it happens. When, not if.
And now to the realest and rawest of the powerful lessons I learned from really bad and dark days: Sometimes you just have to survive the day somehow.
Yes, this is raw and true. There will be days where none of the techniques will work and where you just have to realize the fact, that you will come out on the other side eventually. Not right away, but eventually. And then make your peace with it and accept it. As fighting your feelings will make things so much worse than simply feeling them. Or, my favorite approach for over 30 years, eating them. All of them and then some. It just does not work.
When I am having such a day, all I can muster to achieve is trying to not hurt anyone in the process. Or at the very least realize I did and apologize immediately. When hormones go rogue for example, I can sometimes watch myself turn into a dissatisfied unhappy bitchy “monster”. Yes, I am a very self-aware person, but sometimes there is just no stopping that.
One of the powerful lessons I learned from really bad dark days like these is, you can still be happily married when this happens and also be a good leader and colleague. But you need to get over your own ego once in a while in order to achieve that. Apologies are a thing, people!
If you are a person, who is doing a decent to pretty good job in self-care, you will be able to get out of these dark days, even if nothing seems to work. If it is tough for you to accept the fact, that this will be fine again eventually, write a “bad day journal”. No one will be able to convince you better than your past self, who actually made it through such a day. Unfortunately, and fortunately at the same time, we tend to forget this, once we made it through. So a journal can help and make the “getting through” even quicker and smoother.
These are some of the powerful lessons I learned and the tools I have developed to cope. What’s your trick to manage these bad days? How did you survive 2020 without losing your mind? Share your story in the comments and let’s learn from each other!
Take care, be well and hang in there!