How to Persevere in Dark Times

Just before COVID was recognized as a national health disaster in the U.S. last spring, I began a climate grief group for people to talk about their experiences of climate grief and eco-anxiety. This was prompted by my own struggle with grief and overwhelm related to awareness of climate change and ecocide.

Then COVID arrived. The pandemic made meeting in-person impossible or at least unadviseable, but it seemed like people needed something like a grief group more than ever. Fear about our health and that of our family and friends, concern about the loss of employment or income, social isolation created by quarantine, and the ongoing stress of political instability in our country, most recently the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, exacerbated the feelings many of us were already having. It seems like everyone I know is struggling.

I recently participated in an online discussion with my fellow Unitarian congregants about perseverance, what is means to us, how we persevere in different ways. It prompted me to return to what I had written before for those experiencing climate grief and eco-anxiety, and I realized it applies more broadly to everything we’re feeling because of COVID and politics, as well as climate change. What follows are some of the insights I have gleaned from my own experience and from others about how to persevere in dark times.

If you are struggling with feelings of grief, despair, fear, guilt, dread, powerlessness, overwhelm, burnout, or similar feelings, know this …
  1. You are not alone.
  2. These kinds of feelings are perfectly normal and healthy. Our ability to feel heartbreak is a function of our ability to feel joy. 
  3. Your feelings are a natural response to being alive and aware in a time of rapid environmental and social change.
  4. The intensity with which you may be feeling these feelings at the moment is not permanent. Just like the natural world, the human soul also has seasons.
  5. Action can help, but it can also be a way of avoiding your feelings.
  6. While not everyone will understand your feelings, it is important to find and connect with those who do.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Take care of yourself.

Don’t forget to breathe.

Drink lots of water.

Move your body.

Go outside.

Take time for yourself.

Pray or meditate.

Keep coming back to that which sustains you …

… whether you call it “God,” “Spirit,” “the Goddess,” “Gaia,” “the web of life,” “the spirits of the land,” or by no name at all.

Take the advice of climate activist Patrick Robbins:

“Walk by yourself at night under the dark sky. Recognize that you only have one life, that you have more power than you realize, and that there is a grace and a joy that comes from using that power for something bigger than yourself.”

But also “recognize that the climate crisis [and every other one of these problems] is complicated—no one person is going to solve it by themselves.” Know that you don’t have to have all the answers, you don’t have to do everything, and you don’t have to be perfect.

Remember that our current cultural systems work to alienate us from each other and from wild nature. The most radical thing we can do under these systems is to build community. Any action which connects us to the wider human and more-than-human community is a form of resistance.

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post,, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

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