It’s inevitable — sometimes, we just hit our lowest points. Sometimes, grief brings it on. Many times, it’s stress, or money troubles, or toxic relationships.

During other times, it may well be nothing at all that triggers your emotional plummets. A song that reminds you of someone you miss, or a feeling when you wake up that nothing will rescue you today, no matter what happens.

Nobody makes it through life without hitting those lows. What’s essential is spotting how you react, taking some steps to break up the dark thought patterns, and nurturing your mental health long-term.

You have to forgive yourself for your low moments — they aren’t your fault. And beating yourself up for them will take you even lower.

Be kind to yourself. Breathe. Recalibrate. And, at your own pace, crawl/clamber/climb out of the pit. Here’s how Team Greatist confronts those dark, complex, and seemingly endless moments.

mental health grappling hook headerShare on Pinterest
Illustration by Brittany England

How do you react to your dark moments?

Horribly. I’m perhaps the world’s ugliest crier. Usually, a scream accompanies it — not a wail, or a shout, an actual scream from a terrible Italian seventies’ B-movie. It used to be that I’d punch myself in the face, too, but it’s been a while.

Hyperventilating, running out of the house/building, and hiding away can all also manifest themselves. Very often, I’ll call someone and just lash out — maybe a parent or friend. I’m surprised and relieved that many of these people stuck around.

What is the grappling hook that gets you out of the pit?

It used to be booze. This only made things 10 times worse.

Nowadays, I’ll head out on a furious cycle for 15 minutes, or even just a walk. A long bath is usually enough to take my mind off the immediate problem and refocus.

What’s the guardrail that stops you from falling back in?

Ambient music, exercise, and throwing myself into work generally keep me away from mental health catastrophes these days. My work/life balance isn’t the healthiest, but it gives me a more stable platform that makes the rest of my life less shaky.

How do you react to your dark moments?

Seclusion, retreat, and surrender. In my dark moments, human contact becomes draining and impossible to sustain. I feel like the Grinch, imaginary drumsticks beating at his skull, as he recounts the Whos on Christmas Day: All that noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!

I crave quiet and also resent it (it’s lonely, after all). I want space to sit and sulk, but I also expect those closest to me to notice and try to pull me out of it. Processing emotions also becomes difficult, and the frustration of losing an otherwise perfectly good day is the match that lights the kindling.

When all of this comes crashing down, I put myself away. It sounds nice and neat, like a doll on a shelf, but I grab some things I like (a book, my laptop to watch a movie, water, and a snack) and go lay down in the spare room where I wait, tears flowing, until the storm passes.

What is the grappling hook that gets you out of the pit?

Patience, routine, and glimmers. Low points happen enough that I know the signs, and I trust I’ll come out the other side unscathed (maybe a little scathed, but still OK). Separation feeds my sadness, but it also gives me space to process, unload, and, if need be, to just wallow.

Most importantly, I remember that it’s all temporary. I may not wake up ready to jump out of bed, but the tides will shift, and I’ll find an opening to pull myself out of the pit. I just need to be patient and take care of myself until the window opens.

Until then, I journal, sleep, read, mope, sob, and snack until I feel well enough — mentally sober enough — to rejoin my life.

What’s the guardrail that stops you from falling back in?

I’ve built (and been blessed with) a really killer support system. This is definitely why I have the faith and mental fortitude to hang tight in low moments. Exercise, my dog, and my partner top the list.

Candid convos with friends and family take a close second. I would argue, though, no matter how corny it sounds, that all my dark moments are the best guardrail of all.

I have survived every isolating, confidence-shaking, agonizing moment thus far, and therefore, I know I can do it again.

How do you react to your dark moments?

I push things down… waaaay down into the deep pits of my soul and go-go-go like the energizer bunny. This definitely isn’t the best coping mechanism (sorry, therapists). But it doesn’t typically just turn into moping around. The dark moments make me oddly productive.

Call it panic productivity, but putting my energy and mind into something I can control helps me cope until I can force myself to access my feelings. This inevitably catches up to me and usually turns into secluding myself and crying it out.

Or a full-on shouting match or freak-out if I don’t face my problems early enough.

What is the grappling hook that gets you out of the pit?

I have trouble relaxing. My mind is always running (*ahem* worrying). But 2020 finally forced me to reassess my workaholic and type-A tendencies and just chill TF out. I go on walks almost every day with my dog, I do yoga a few times a week, and I take baths like it’s my job.

(No, really, I might as well own stock in an Epsom salt company cause I go through the stuff).

I also just let myself cry it out, preferably in the bathtub or shower. For whatever reason, there is something super cathartic about crying in the bathtub while blasting, “I’m just a kid, and life is a nightmare.”

Some old-school Simple Plan and a good ‘90s/2000s punk playlist does my mind good. This probably sounds relaxing to no one, but for me, it works.

What’s the guardrail that stops you from falling back in?

I’ve learned to ask for help and accept help when offered. This is often simply leaning on my support system. I ask my husband for help or tell him I need to relax. I call my sister, mom, or a girlfriend and just have honest conversations about what I’m feeling.

Exercise is also a great way to channel my nervous, go-getter energy healthily while reassessing my feelings. Going for a run or doing some yoga helps me stop thinking for once and put my mind at ease. Nothing is better than the mental clarify after a good run.

The best I’ve ever felt mentally is after running a marathon. (I mean, if you can suffer through that, it makes you feel pretty dang invincible knowing what your body and mind are capable of.)

But I’ve recently taken that down a notch and started really enjoying the strength and soothing movement of yoga. Reaching these Zen states really helps me stay grounded, and reminds me that not everything is in my control and that it’s better to accept what’s happening than simply push it all down.

How do you react to your dark moments?

As a parent, my darkest moment was watching my son get rolled into brain surgery and sobbing to the doctors, “please take good care of him,” because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

They were taking him away, and I had no control, which was terrifying. I couldn’t do anything to protect him. I gave myself the time to panic and process because there was no other option. Then I prepared for him to come out and need me — which meant summoning strength that didn’t seem possible at the time. Moms who have been through similar things will know what I’m talking about. You call on your superhuman side because you have to.

As for very personal dark moments — I retreat like a hermit crab. I sequester myself and wait it out. Often this involves staying in bed all day (my cats will stand guard) and telling my family not to bother me. I hibernate, sleep, wake, ruminate, sleep, and eventually emerge.

What is the grappling hook that gets you out of the pit?

My children. They level me. They keep me honest. They bring me back. They’re compassionate but won’t let me wallow.

Also, my BFFs. My dear friend is a therapist, and I always marvel that she’s able to listen to my issues and respond without judgment: “What can I do to support you?” or “What do you need?” She’s taught me a lot.

I have an ultimately positive outlook on life. It’s cliche as hell, but life is short, and I believe in finding moments of joy every day, even if they’re small. Sitting on my front stoop, drinking coffee, watching the palm trees dance. Laughing at something my daughter said. Eating dark chocolate for breakfast. Simple, small things bring me back.

What’s the guardrail that stops you from falling back in?

Again, my kids. No room to fall back in. Kids are one helluva wake-up call.

How do you react to your dark moments?

Not always the same way. Crying, which I hate doing, is the obvious one. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it lasts a while.

In an effort to avoid conflict or confrontation, I also tend to let small problems build up in my mind until they all come bursting out in some highly regrettable reaction. Basically, my body doesn’t let me hide my feelings for long, no matter how much I want to.

A good example of this happened a couple months ago, when my husband and I had an offer accepted on what would’ve been our first house. I wasn’t totally comfortable with certain aspects of the house, but we loved other aspects so much that I wanted to believe it would be OK.

As I tried to ignore my doubts, I involuntarily burst into tears every time we talked about the house. I cried for nearly 3 days straight, all while insisting that I really did want to move forward with it, before finally admitting that it didn’t feel like the right decision.

What is the grappling hook that gets you out of the pit?

Moving my body has always been one of my most important coping methods, which is ironic because I have a recurring injury that sometimes prevents me from exercising and is thus the source of many dark moments.

It’s a vicious cycle. Yoga has been an essential part of my life for the last few years and is a form of movement I can usually do to some degree even when I’m injured.

Otherwise, writing about the tough times and talking about them with friends helps me process things. And it helps to remember that I’ve been through hard times before and they won’t last forever.

What’s the guardrail that stops you from falling back in?

Finding things to look forward to. When I’m going through a tough time, I try to think of something good about each day as soon as I wake up in the morning — even if it’s just “I’m already looking forward to going back to sleep tonight.”

Adopting a pet a few years ago was a game-changer as well. My cat literally gets me out of bed every morning — I’m a light sleeper, and once he’s up, I’m up. We spend at least a few hours every day snuggling on the couch, and it’s so restorative for me.

How do you react to your dark moments?

High. Drama. Like cranking-opera-music-while-soaking-in-a-bath-so-hot-I-resemble-a-lobster kind of drama. If you haven’t tried it, do. The same phenomenon that makes singing in the shower sound so good boosts the emo factor of opera.

You’ll feel like the Godfather having a shave. And everyone will automatically keep their distance. No explanation needed.

In short, I sweat it out, cry it out, and feel all the feels.

What is the grappling hook that gets you out of the pit?


For brief moments of darkness, a good run (a la Disney Princess galloping across a stormy valley) will snuff it out. But longer bouts of the blues can only be remedied with travel.

Ancient ruins, classical art, and the night sky possess a mystique that lulls me into a blissful sense of insignificance.

What’s the guardrail that stops you from falling back in?

It’s a thick guardrail… love, laughter, warmth, and imagination.

Venting, listening, and laughing every day with my husband and best friends is essential. I also have a strict nightly routine consisting of a hot bath and reading or watching historical fiction before I close my eyes.

Regularly detaching from reality is excellent preventive care.

How do you react to your dark moments?

I tend to process them slowly, tasting the bitterness of the moment to see just what’s different from the last.

What I mean is that I try to decipher if the dark moment is a result of something I did or something I encountered, or both. I walk through that identification process first, then let whatever natural emotional reaction follow.

Lately, the dark moments have tasted all too familiar with the social upheaval and uncertainty that seems to constantly hover over those in the BIPOC (and particularly Black) community. And my reactions have run the gamut – everything from rage and despair, to indignation and fear.

Not to say that these issues haven’t been an aspect of life that I’ve grown up with and had to learn to navigate like so many others. But the weight that these darker moments bring has felt particularly heavy in recent years, especially as I’ve been raising two boys – oh, and also grappling with a pandemic.

Needless to say, the darker moments have been coming to the surface more frequently.

What is the grappling hook that gets you out of the pit?

In those moments, it’s really tempting to isolate myself and my family out of a need to feel protected. But what I actually do is get out of the house and go on one of my epic browsing adventures. I’m not a big shopper, but I’ve alway found browsing to be cathartic.

Whether it’s venturing into a bookstore, a second-hand shop, a tech and media aisle, or a cavernous furniture warehouse – getting lost in something else for an hour helps me to find my center again.

I guess that’s my version of going for a run to clear my head.

What’s the guardrail that stops you from falling back in?

My faith, prayer/meditation is a big guardrail that keeps me on track. I love movies and books, so I’ll throw myself into those on a pretty consistent basis.

Engaging with my family is an easy help as well. I’m a soccer dad now, and it’s been fun to go to my son’s games, watch him run around without a care in the world, and ask myself if I’m really getting older.

It helps me keep things in perspective and appreciate the day I have in front of me. The dark moments will be there, but the light always shines through.

How do you react to your dark moments?

My emotions are so physical. My shoulders rise to my ears and lock there, the warmth drains from my fingers, red splotches cover my neck and chest.

Any outside stimulation — whether that’s my upstairs neighbor stomping around, any human being trying to talk to me, or my phone buzzing too much — makes me feel like I’m going to snap.

But I don’t want to snap. So I overcompensate and shut it all down. I hide, put myself on mute, and find somewhere to let the emotions spill out of me. Usually that looks like a hard sob — but sometimes it’s finding a distraction (like Netflix or TikTok) to let the physical part of my emotions decompress.

What is the grappling hook that gets you out of the pit?

Laughter. The people close to me know to give me time to feel what I’m feeling. They’ll let me hide in my room or sit in silence with them until the physical emotion feels less intense. And somehow, they’ll always find the right time to make me laugh to bring me back to life.

If I’m alone, I’ll find laughter by calling a friend or walking my pup. Giggling about funny memories or seeing my dog prance through the park (with a literal smile on his face) is always the perfect antidote to my darker moments.

What’s the guardrail that stops you from falling back in?

It’s all about preventing a build up of negative emotions for me. And to do that, I need a bit of a routine.

Because my emotions are so physical, I need to schedule time into my day to walk, stretch, and exercise. Movement is my form of mindfulness and it helps release the little emotions that pile up throughout the day. I schedule time for it to hold myself accountable for actually getting it done.

I also schedule plans with the people I love to get a healthy dose of laughter. I make sure I have plans to look forward to with my fiancé, my family, or my best friends.

Knowing I am just a few days away from feeling the joy of being near my favorite people makes it easier to push through emotional roadblocks and obstacles.