When I think about change, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s quote often comes to mind: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
Throughout our lives, things are constantly changing. Life transitions can vary in intensity, often filled with worry, loss, and doubt. Even the transitions that can on the surface feel positive, can be tied with worries and fears. Change can be hard, and can easily feel overwhelming.
Here are some ways to practice surfing the waves with as much compassion as possible, to help us remember that we can learn to maintain thoughtful control during these transitional periods.
Learning to Cope With Change
1. Prioritize Your Physical Health
When you’re undergoing a major life transition, you will likely be busier and more stressed than usual. You might be understandably pulled into doing more, and pushing past what you might need. During this time, make it a priority to take care of your body and your physical health, as much as possible. Create space for sleep, nutrition, and a bit of relaxation.
2. Understand and Validate Your Emotions
Change affects everyone differently, so take time to think about and process your emotions as you feel them. You will likely experience many different feelings, especially if the transition in your life was abrupt or unexpected.
As people, we dislike uncomfortable emotions, and our emotions can at times feels inconvenient. We might try to minimize our feelings by saying things like “I should feel like _____, not _____,” or saying “Other people have endured way worse, so who am I to complain?” While these approaches feels good short-term, it can make it difficult to problem solve effectively, especially if the emotion is not going away.
I recommend being curious about the emotion and finding ways to navigate them proactively. For example, rather than ignoring our anxiety about not having the skills to address a life transition, we can make time to assess and build those skills.
3. Sort Out What Is Within Your Control
Transitions are really hard, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by things outside your control. Pause for a second, and ask yourself, “What can I do to make this situation better?,” “What do I need and how can I get that?” Look for the moments within your control.
For example, you can’t control if a loved one gets sick any more than you can control the weather. However, you have choices on how much you want to help. You also have the choice to take care of yourself as much as possible so that if you choose to help your loved one, you have the strength to do so.
4. Ask For Help
Transitions are hard, emotionally and physically. Whenever possible, seek support from trusted individuals – it could be something as simple as watching a TV show with a friend, or asking someone else to step in for a bit to watch the kids. It could be reaching out to a respected family or community leader, who can support and guide you as you navigate this change. It can be getting in touch with a support group or a therapist.
When panicked, overwhelmed, or feeling down, we can forget that others know these feelings too, that we don’t have to go at it alone.
As we navigate transitions, it can be really helpful to find comfort in spaces where we can set routines and rituals to create a sense of consistency. Try to maintain as much consistency as possible and if needed, create new routines if your old routines may not fit right now. It could be having a specific bedtime routine, or a morning ritual that takes 2-5 minutes.
Change and transition can be hard – our instinct may at times be to run away and hide, or to worry endlessly in the hopes that our stress will reduce the impact of the change. I hope these ideas help you build a thoughtful and flexible plan as you navigate your transition.