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10 ways to shine your light in dark times

Since 1963, autumn has been a difficult time for me. Two months shy of my 13th birthday I lost my younger brother to cancer, then shortly afterward, President Kennedy was assassinated.

During this dark time somehow my family and the country made it through. In the Jewish tradition, I remember lighting a candle for someone who’s passed to help us navigate the darkness.

That year deepened me emotionally and laid the groundwork to my becoming a therapist. Now, as I remember these events of 57 years ago, I realize that’s where I developed my long-standing interest in resilience. We all need adaptability as we patiently make our way through this long, dark winter.

When darkness looms, shine your light. I am a train enthusiast; many times I have walked through abandoned train tunnels aided only by my flashlight. I would journey into the heart of the darkness, and although it frightened me I was compelled to turn off the light for just a moment. As soon as I would turn the light back on, I had a sense of relief, and easily saw my way to the light at the end of the tunnel.

All of us struggle with darkness. When we make our light shine bright, we can dispel the shadows. Here are 10 tips to help you shine your light, even when it feels like you’re in a long, dark tunnel.

Cultivate healthy optimism: This perspective can be as simple as remembering to tell yourself, “I will get through this.” To strengthen my resolve, I remember “this too shall pass,” as well as the Serenity Prayer.

Clearly communicate your boundaries: Realizing our COVID precautions are not just for ourselves, but a sign of love and respect for family, friends and community, makes it easier to be firm in our limits. The coronavirus doesn’t own us. We have control over our actions and the risks we choose to take.

Remember kindness goes a long way: Many of us are having a difficult time financially and emotionally. Are there ways you can give to others? A powerful practice is to be kind to somebody every day. Remember to thank those who have done something special for you.

Be grateful and appreciative: When I feel down, I find things for which to be thankful. I consider how terrifying the 1918 flu must have been for our ancestors. With modern medicine and technology, there is no better time to be living through a pandemic. We have a vaccine on the horizon, video conferencing, movies and online ordering at our fingertips.

See the silver linings: How have you benefited from the new and unexpected perspectives that sheltering in place has brought to your life? It’s easy to concentrate on what we have lost. I know that I have gained a more leisurely lifestyle with more time to explore new interests. I have been using a music app that will help me (hopefully) improve my singing. What have you gained? (No weight jokes please).

Challenge your pessimistic thinking: Replace negative, self-limiting thoughts with positive self-talk. Focus on what went right instead of what went wrong. What are some of the changes the pandemic has brought to your life that you appreciate? Find something that can bring you joy each day. Appreciate fresh air, foliage, clouds, etc.

Maintain a sense of awe: A sense of awe is valuable for getting through hard times. A walk in the woods, gardening or watching nature-oriented shows is soothing. A recent study showed that those who participate in walks actively seeking out moments of awe increase their positive emotions and decrease distress.

Maintain social connection while physical distancing: Many people have reconnected with friends and relatives utilizing Zoom. A continued sense of social bonds is a key to happiness. Is there someone you can reach out to?

Curate your exposure to the news and social media: Find some good news, it’s out there. Share with others the optimistic stories you have found. Feel free to take a news sabbatical. Read news articles from different sections of the paper such as science, health or book reviews.

Imagine positive, joyful outcomes: Make a positive post-pandemic plan for yourself. I have travel in mind, but I am truly looking forward to visiting friends and family without worrying about COVID. What are some of the activities you are looking forward to? Inside the word emergency is the root word emerge. How do you want to emerge differently from this crisis/opportunity?

I encourage you to choose a couple of ideas from this list and give them a try. I’m optimistic that when you do, it will strengthen your resilience. If you are still having trouble getting your light to shine, reach out to a friend or a professional for help.

Allan Weisbard is a licensed clinical social worker. Check out his website at www.healthyoptimism.com to read tips on how to become more resilient. Email 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at innerpeaceforyou@outlook.com.