taking care of ourselves through the tragic seasons of life:
Tragedy can, and will, enter our lives without permission; it will swiftly force its way into our homes without invitation, and long after Tragedy has struck its blow and left us, the repercussions will linger on…
Usually, I direct the content of my blogs to those responsible for the parenting, education, or care of children. However, this blog is written to the general human being, to remind you to keep taking care of yourself in the face of tragic and distressing circumstances. As one who has spent many months in such circumstances, I share what I’ve found to be the most important pillars to support a functioning human during those dismal times.
Get enough sleep: it’s tempting to stay up late with a glass of wine, a plate of nachos, binge-watching Netflix for hours past your usual “bedtime,” to bask in the bitter silence of the night while everyone in the house is asleep, and then to hit snooze on your alarm clocks 85 times in the morning. However, as comforting as it may seem in the late-night hours to sit in mindless pity for yourself, it is not lasting and productive comfort which will actually be the result; it will be an ever-deepening hole of exhausted sadness. The more sleep deprived you become, the more easily you become triggered. And when you act out in your exhausted irritation, you create many tiny painful situations which end up adding to a “the world is falling apart around me” attitude. And before you know it, you are in a viscous cycle it will take quite a bit of effort to end…So just go to bed at the same time every night when your schedule permits it, and wake up at the same time every morning. (You should always strive to function on a minimum of 6 hours of sleep, but ideally 8-10.)
Get your vitamins: whatever treats you feel entitled to because of your tragedy, at least commit to yourself to eat more good stuff every day than junk. Keep a list of the five food groups in your phone (vegetables, fruits, grains, protein, and dairy—for those of you who are too exhausted to try and recall all five) and commit to eating at least one thing from each category every day. And try not to count things that come from a fast-food restaurant, if you can help it. (And no, Chipotle doesn’t count as fast food. Feel free to count tomatoes as a fruit and mark off all five of your categories with a single burrito… Literally zero judgment if you eat one every day.)
Stay self-disciplined: it’s okay if you don’t keep up with your regular standards during this season. But don’t let them all go completely. That will just stress you out even more, and further contribute to that “the world is falling apart around me” attitude I mentioned before. Come up with a short to-do list. Figure out what your top priorities are. Maybe you know you need to have a clean kitchen or vacuumed floors to feel sane. Maybe you know you need to make some kind of progress on your personal ambitions. Maybe you know you need to visit the gym at least a couple times a week. Whatever you know you need, make sure you get it on that list, but keep it to just 3-5 achievable items per day. Don’t be too rigid, but make it your goal to get all those things done before your head hits the pillow. Then you’ll know the earth is still spinning; things are still getting done, even if you feel like Life is on pause.
Keep your body moving: when we are in the heart of a depressing season, it feels most comforting to stay in bed or veg out on the couch. And while its okay to give ourselves permission to do that occasionally, it is vitally important that those comforting lazy behaviors aren’t allowed to dominate our lives. Limit your “screen time” to just a couple hours of Netflix, video games, and social media a day. Get up and stretch, walk around, but don’t get too comfy in one spot for hours on end. Getting outside for at least a total of 30 minutes a day will make a surprisingly huge difference, too. Park your car in the outermost spot in the lot, even if its cold, and try to be present as you walk in that fresh air.
Be social: it’s 100% okay to cancel some of the events on your social calendar, even most of them. But don’t cancel them all. Make yourself put on real clothes and interact with other adults in a non-serious setting on a semi-regular basis. (Going to work does not count.) Have conversations about superficial things, about your hobbies and interests, about celebrities or your pets, forget about your misery for a few hours. Just let loose and laugh a lot. Remind yourself that the entire world hasn’t gone dark, even though it might seem that way a lot of the time. Be fully present in the light and laughter that is the company of good people.
Develop and maintain a spiritual practice: do whatever brings you connection with calm, patience, insight, strength and wisdom before you begin your day. This will become the cornerstone of your self-care, and should be the number one, top “non-negotiable” of your day. In times of sadness and pain, we do not naturally have the strength, insight, or wisdom near the surface of ourselves which we might have in brighter times. It’s important to make conscious efforts to connect with your God, higher-self, or whatever higher source of energy fuels you.
If you’re new to this concept, here are a few ideas of how to get started:
meditate with a hot cup of tea before the sun rises ▪ pull oracle cards ▪ read your Bible, or other religious or spiritual text ▪ take a walk or jog in the brisk early morning cold to connect with nature ▪ color in a coloring book while listening to lyric-less music ▪ do a centering yoga or kickboxing routine to connect your body and spirit ▪ write in a journal ▪ read or listen to inspirational books ▪ watch inspirational YouTube videos
Let yourself feel the pain: something devastatingly life-altering has happened that will forever be part of your story. Let yourself grieve. Let yourself mourn. Let the tears come when you feel them. Let yourself remember the way things used to be before this happened. Learn to have respect for the pain, and for its role in your life. Let yourself learn what it has to teach you. Let your healing process look like whatever it needs to look like, even though it will sometimes feel like you’re moving backwards instead of forwards. You might be “back to normal” in a month, or maybe in two… but you might not be. Let Healing and Growth take their own course; they’re very wise.
Give yourself grace: you won’t check off all these boxes every day. And that is okay. Let your mind and body process the things that have happened. Don’t rush. Don’t hold yourself to a standard. Don’t bury the pain. Just let things unfold the way they naturally will. Tragic seasons aren’t often the most productive seasons of Life, but they can be transformational if you allow them to be.
Wishing you love, peace, strength, and comfort, dear reader. Keep breathing.