We hear the word CHANGE with reference to various issues, but CHANGE, especially a major shift in one’s life can be quite tough, difficult and scary. In a society it is even very tough and difficult. Change strikes FEAR in the hearts of a lot of people who prefer to reside in their ‘comfort zone’. Unfortunately, one thing that is constant in life is that everything changes per second, per minute, per hour, per day……Change happens.
The thing is this – Change in itself is not a bad thing (even though sometimes it feels that way). It is the perception of change that is the issue.
Change is necessary for growth and development. Some changes are very positive. We may receive a promotion at work, start a new career path, lose weight, have a child, or undertake a big move to another State. These positive changes are ultimately wonderful and lead to new, exciting outcomes and blessings in our lives, but positive change is also stressful.
Yet, life goes on. No matter how painful the circumstance or stressful the situation, time continues to move forward – the sun goes down, and the sun comes up again.
So, how do we get through a major life shift? What can we do to ensure we not only survive, but come out better than before?
Here are some coping skills to get through a major life change.
1. DON’T BE HARD ON YOURSELF – GIVE YOURSELF TIME
Everyone heals at their own pace. There’s no set amount of time to “get over” any setback, major or minor. Some of us may find we feel better for a while, then later, waves of grief, fear or worries wash over us again. Whatever you’re going through, remind yourself there’s no normal time frame.
After going through a major loss, many of us realize grief never really disappears and certainly doesn’t heal overnight. We might wish these bad, sad, heavy feelings would go away, but chances are, they will never fully go.
Give yourself time to mourn the loss of the way life was – and with time it will be a translucent memory and some could fade away completely.
2. LET YOURSELF FEEL TO HEAL
The loss of a relationship cuts deep into the very emotional core of a person. Many times the emotions that we show to people, even to ourselves, when going through challenging times is not indicative of what we are really feeling inside.
A friend who had a broken engagement, just before the marriage, had to be put on ‘suicide’ watch. She vacillated between being very calm and suddenly going into crying fits. One day she says, “I am fine”, and another day, “I can’t live without him.” With counsel and therapy she eventually grew stronger. It just shows that what we present to other people during a crisis may not necessarily be how we feel.
Whether you’re going through a divorce, the death of a loved one, or a big life change (a job, a new baby, moving to a new town), emotions are up, down and all over the place. What we need to remember is there’s no “bad” or “wrong” emotions to feel when you’re going through a tough transition.
Sometimes when we avoid our emotions or hold them all inside, the emotions end up escaping in other ways. We can’t sleep. We snap at our kids. We break down crying unexpectedly, anywhere. Are short with loved ones.
Allow yourself to go through the emotions of the situation, however difficult. If you feel happy, embrace it! Don’t feel guilty for laughing, even when things are terrible. If you feel like yelling, go for it! Watch soppy movies and cry if you need to. Experience your emotions, because holding them in won’t help with healing. It eventually erupts.
3. LOVE YOURSELF
When tough stuff happens, we tend to beat ourselves up about mistakes we made, and play them over and over in our heads.
One of the biggest and most important things we can do for ourselves during a challenge or transition is acceptance of what we can’t change. Realize what’s done is done, so even if mistakes were made, you’re still a worthwhile person deserving of love and care.
Give yourself a break and focus on the things you can do to renew and heal yourself. Get a little exercise. Visit church services to bring you peace. Reach out to friends who support you and will help you rebuild your confidence. Stop knocking yourself down – uplift YOU.
Some people are responsible for the care of others as well—their spouse, their children, even an aged parent. Remember while we are taking care of the needs of those around us, we must also remember to address our own emotional and physical health. If your ‘self care’ tank is empty, you cannot find the strength and the fortitude to care for those other important people in our lives.
4. FIND YOUR “NEW NORMAL”
There’s a lot of talk in trauma healing about discovering a “new normal.” Often, once we’ve experienced a loss, a change or transition, we may need to re-ground ourselves and orientate ourselves to what “regular life” looks like now.
Realize life might not ever go back the way it was, but we can find ways to help life feel okay and find control and routine in regular activities. Rather than undertaking a bunch of major adjustments, embrace regular routines and keep plans as similar as possible. Get up at the same time you always did, eat the same meals you’re used to and so on.
Adjusting to the idea of a “new normal” takes a while, especially when you’ve been through a major shakeup. Deal with what you can handle right now and give yourself permission to “tread water” when it comes to tackling big life goals or overhauling aspects of your life that are currently pretty stable. You can lean and take comfort in the support of people who care about you – rather than pushing them away.
5. FOCUS ON HEALTHY HABITS
If you’ve gone through a life change, it’s more important than ever that you keep your energy and clarity up as much as possible. Sleep, eat and exercise regularly. You might not feel like going to the gym or socializing, but push yourself to meet the minimum standards of self-care. If you can muster walks or eating healthy you will feel stronger.
Sometimes when we go through a tough time we want to fall into less-healthy habits for comfort or to numb us to pain and fear. Unfortunately, these unhealthy habits only do us a disservice in the long run by leaving us feeling more run down, tired and vulnerable. It could even lead to the onset of depression.
Do what you would encourage a friend to undertake – self care. If your friend was going through a hard time, will you not encourage her to eat, no matter how small and get enough sleep? Do the same for yourself. Do it, hurting!
View self-care as a method for giving yourself strength and energy to cope with your situation. View food as sustenance and nourishment. Think of eight hours of sleep as a way to allow your body to renew and restore itself.
6. SPEAK OUT
One of the best ways to get through a change is by talking about your feelings with people you feel comfortable with. Even if the change in your life is ultimately positive—surviving an illness, letting go of a negative relationship, losing weight or starting a new career—changes still cause us to undergo stress.
Talking and finding support in others is one of the best ways to process your emotions and “get through” a tough time. One of the reasons programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers are successful is because they offer people a chance to discuss their feelings in a supportive environment. When we’re making changes, even positive ones, we need the comfort of others. Friends and support groups are wonderful sources of understanding..
Therapy is helpful in dealing with grief, loss or change. Talking about your feelings allows you to express your emotions rather than holding them inside. Finding someone you relate to either in a trained coach, therapist or counselor, or in a support group setting is cathartic and brings insight and growth to your situation.Channel your feelings into creative expression through journaling, art, dance or other alternative therapies to help you feel connected and renewed
7. BE EASY ON YOURSELF…AND YOUR KIDS
If you’re going through a life change, it’s tempting to completely turn everything upside-down. You may feel like making a fresh start somewhere.
As humans, all of us need routine, and particularly children. Sometimes we might be able to handle a move to a new town, taking on a new job and starting new friendships, but while kids are resilient, they might feel overwhelmed by so many changes.
If you’ve recently undergone a move, a separation or other major life change, keep a close eye on your kids for signs of stress. Changes in sleeping or eating habits and moodiness, shifts in attitude, lack of focus or problems with grades are all signs you may need to take a stress break.
You will need to ease up on crazy schedules and pause lessons and events for a while. It may be helpful to get them involved in new activities which will help them form new connections.
Staying busy certainly helps us all cope with grief and stress, but pace yourself and feel it out. Busy is great, but working everyone into a frenzy adds more stress. You may look at it as a fresh start and an exciting opportunity, but for kids it may not be that exciting. They may seek familiar activities, foods, toys, and routine.
8. CELEBRATE SUCCESSES
Let gratitude be on your top list and try to appreciate the joys and silver linings in your life. Studies of terminal patients report that many people at the end of their life often feel a profound sense of gratitude. Despite feeling pain and facing the unknown, many want to simply surround themselves with their loved ones and take them in as much as possible. They’re grateful for their connections with others.
When going through a difficult time, there is nothing as helpful as reminding ourselves of those most important to us, and of all of the things going right in our lives (even when it feels everything is going horribly wrong). Maybe some of you know the song:
“Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings and see what the Lord has done; Count your blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
When you’ve made it through a difficult day, celebrate. When situations are terrible and you’ve managed to survive the week, think of three things you’re grateful for,or three lessons you’ve learned from your situation. Reframing challenges into learning experiences shifts our perspective and helps us reflect on positive opportunities, even in the face of pain and sorrow.
If you need a shift in perspective, consider doing something kind for someone else. At least if you ‘cant’ seem to make yourself happy, do little thinks to make other people happy. I can tell you that this is a very effective magic trick. It works for me every time. Focus on others instead of yourself. Invite someone for coffee, (I do this a lot – you don’t know what that gesture would do for that friend), compliment a stranger, volunteer in church, do something that you won’t get ‘paid’ for. The little things have a big emotional payback, and guess what? Someone you made to smile or uplift may be quietly battling something nearly identical. I will like you to reflect a bit: have you ever had to emotionally support someone going through something YOU have gone through? Amazing, yes? That is why it is important that you take an experience as a learning curse, rather than let it bring you down.
I know it does seem counter-intuitive to worry about others when you’re struggling, but sometimes thinking outside of ourselves helps us shift our perspective, and find hope and strength.
Remember one thing, when you hit rock bottom there is no place else to go but up. So, if you are struggling through a tough time, just keep going. You can do it! I have done so – many times.
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