A Better Life

How To Find Good In A Dumpster Fire

Some tips to help survive a dumpster fire

5 min
Haley S

There have been times in the last few years where I’ve found myself recalling zombie apocalypse movies and wondering what I should do to prepare. The climate change movie The Day After Tomorrow doesn’t seem so far off anymore. Should I load up on Antarctic survival wear just in case and learn how to skin a seal? Maybe buy a place in Mexico since that’s where they sent the president in that movie. And how about Armageddon? Would anyone really be surprised if a giant meteor was heading toward Earth and we needed to send up our best looking actors to save us? I’m personally not ready to sacrifice George Clooney or Ryan Gosling.

It’s been a challenge to have good mental health during a global pandemic, political wars, an actual war, the shootings that shall not be named (could someone please be actual Harry Potter?!). I remember fondly the days when I didn’t have a full office in my bedroom. Good times.

Here are some survival skills I’ve been honing. Maybe you’ll find something to spark an idea or joy (thanks, Marie Kondo). I have found some tools to help get past survival into more hope. I’m not saying I’m always hopeful, but I’m not constantly carrying around the weight of world, and most days I feel like I’m moving forward with momentum.

  1. Write a list of activities that make you happy. Post that list in a prominent place or keep it on your phone. When you’re feeling down, do something on the list.
  2. Have a go-to movie or series that always makes you laugh or feel good. For me it’s Derry Girls, New Girl, The Sound of Music and Roman Holiday. I will play these on my phone and listen while I’m driving, working, cleaning, whatever. If you can’t laugh at the polar bear episode of Derry Girls or feel warm and fuzzy when the nuns sing about Maria, seek medical help ‘cause you have a serious case of the blues (jokes aside, see note below about medical help).
  3. Speaking of the blues, I have one song (it’s actually jazz) that makes me move and improves my mood the instant I hear it — “Grazing in the Grass” by Hugh Masekela.
  4. Exercise. It’s fool-proof once you start. Start walking, just around the block.
  5. Try a new exercise. I’ve been doing yoga weekly for two years. It’s been my touchstone of accomplishment even when everything else is a dumpster fire. I signed up for Orange Theory Fitness last year. It’s been a great experience. I also got a bike and started riding again. All of these activities were challenging at first, but I felt real accomplishment sticking with them and getting better.
  6. Try learning anything new or making a new friend or check out a new place to walk. These changes can seem subtle but can make a big difference in your outlook.
  7. Have go-to meditation, podcast and audio book apps. For me lately it’s Calm, Spotify and Audible. Learning new ways to think about situations gives hope. Hearing others’ stories of overcoming challenges gives hope. Learning how to sit still for ten minutes and breathe does wonders.
  8. Get your spiritual fix regularly, whatever that looks like for you. Whether it’s the big man upstairs or singing bowls in a sound healing class, you’re not alone. Be like Elsa and let it go. Give your problems back to the universe once in a while to give yourself a break.
  9. Have a list of three people to call when you need someone to talk to and then call them when you’re feeling blue or even when you’re feeling green or orange. Talking with friends is like taking a daily vitamin. It’s OK for one of those people on your list to be a therapist. Sometimes sharing cat pictures with your family members doesn’t work and you need the trained experts.
  10. Reconnect with old friends, the ones that were in your wedding, twice. Nothing feels like going home, well other than going home, quite like realizing that your people are still your people.
  11. Don’t do things that make you feel bad or hang out with people who don’t bring value to your journey. I stopped watching the news; I only read it now, and I’m careful about how many doom and gloom stories I read. Same with books and movies. If they are too dark and destructive, I choose something else. You are what you eat.
  12. Buy a bunch of cool stickers on Amazon and journal every day. I guess it’s the twelve-year-old girl in me but getting to pick out new stickers and write in my journal every morning seriously gets me excited to get out of bed and start the day.
  13. Do Wordle with your dad or mom or a friend. Every morning, at the crack of dawn or earlier, my dad and I text each other our Wordle results. I like it even more than stickers and journaling.
  14. Write your list of wins. You’ll be surprised how many you can think of every day. It’s also good to acknowledge your challenges. Writing them down can be a place to put them, a way to start overcoming them.

If you find yourself thinking just the bad thoughts, work on trading out some of them with good thoughts. You get to choose. I can spend time worrying about everyone in the Western U.S. running out of water, or I can work on teaching my kids a new life skill or think of a new idea to grow my client’s business or spend time with people I love. We get one life and one time in history. This is ours. We can stand around and worry about the dumpster fire or figure out how to stand the heat while we work on some ways to put out the flames.

Note: It’s never too early to seek medical or professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues. Call your doctor, call 911 or call the new 988 mental health hotline for help.