Our lives are always in flux. Job changes or loss, the passing of a loved one, changes in our living situations, financial issues, divorce, babies being born, kids leaving the nest. The list of things that can change our lives significantly is endless. Some transitions are planned and many are unplanned. When faced with a cataclysmic change in life or lifestyle, what should we do?
A doctor once told me a quote that became a mantra for me when my life was changing: “Prepare for war in times of peace” - Niccolò Machiavelli. To me, this says it all.
Unfortunately, as human beings, we tend to wait until the last minute to prepare for the worst, even when we can see it coming. So, how can we prepare ourselves for a life transition? How do we even know if it will ever happen?
In case you haven’t figured this out yet, life is ever-changing and change will happen no matter how hard you fight it. Death and aging are inevitable. Sometimes change is like a slow-rolling train that we can see and prepare for but most times it’s like a train out –of -control and headed for the station!
Let me speak from my own experience. My spouse was diagnosed with “cognitive decline” in his 60s. When we went to see a specialized psychologist for an evaluation, she told me to get ready. I remember thinking... for what, he doesn’t seem too bad right now and if it doesn’t progress maybe all will be well.
I was living in a shelter in the mind that tried to insulate me from what was happening. It’s a protection mechanism and a way to escape our reality. The truth was that he was in the early stages of dementia and this was going to be a difficult major change for both of us. It took me a while to take her advice to prepare while I could.
Even with preparation, change is never easy. In fact, sometimes you just cannot prepare enough. Preparation for me involved consulting a lawyer about our assets and what to do if he is placed in a nursing facility. It involved many doctors to see if there were any drugs, programs, or experimental trials that could get this “thing” under control.
I had to get the state involved to see if I could get some funding via Medicaid for him for homecare or respite services. I had to leave my job so I could care for him. It was overwhelming. Sometimes, you are just too close to the situation to make rational decisions. If this is the case ask for help! People who are not as close to the situation at hand usually have a better and more realistic perception of what is going on. Let these people help you. There are outside services that can help you prepare also. Seek the advice of an attorney, accountant, physician, or social worker to help you make decisions based on their expert experiences.
When our lives start to spiral out of control and major change is on the horizon, we tend to “check out.” In other words, we try to avoid the situation instead of facing it head-on and coming up with some small goals and expectations. With the change, the point of the goal is not to “fix” the problem, but to find ways to live with it and accept it.
By setting small, attainable goals for yourself you will feel less overwhelmed. For example, if the life transition involves finances, contacting an attorney or financial expert for a meeting to discuss your concerns can be a start. Knowing that an expert will assist you can be reassuring and help to ease some stress.
Some goals can be as simple as returning phone calls or texts from friends and family or planning a small outing or getting together to remain socially active. Goals should not be lofty or unattainable, this is a setup for disappointment and increased stress. Sometimes a good night’s sleep and a fresh perspective can make all the difference.
We tend to beat ourselves up over things that may be out of our control. We harbor guilt, disappointment, and animosity. We tend to isolate and punish ourselves. If one of your friends were to call you and tell you that they were going through something similar, what words of encouragement would you give them?
Treat yourself the way you would treat others in a similar circumstance. Be patient with your emotions. Try journaling to express your feelings. Give yourself accolades for the small victories
or goals met. Treat yourself to a spa day or a day out doing something you like. Surround yourself with good people who lift you up when you are down.
Try to avoid negative situations. Keep things in perspective. Maintain a healthy diet and try to avoid alcohol as it is a depressant. Get as much sleep at night as you can. Remember, some issues cannot be solved. Be at peace with that notion and do not assault yourself for things that are beyond your control.
Just as in any other crisis, we tend to rely on our family and friends for support. This is the perfect time to surround yourself with people that can help and are willing to help. If you need to, seek an outside support group that focuses on your needs (i.e., Alzheimer’s support groups, widow and widower support groups, new mothers support groups.) Formal support groups are adept at handling specific needs. You will meet other people that are experiencing a life transition as well. This helps you to feel less alone in your struggle.
Stay away from people who stroke your negative thoughts. Being around upbeat or like-minded people can be inspiring and healing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! In my opinion, this is one of the biggest flaws we have as humans. We try to remain stoic and not ask for help. We want to be heroic and solve the problem ourselves and we don’t want to burden others with our issues.
Be at peace knowing that some things in our lives require assistance. Take advantage of offers to help. Know that your family and/or friends want to help. If possible, give up a task you normally do to someone willing to do it for you. As humans, we need the support of each other, especially in times of change.
Exercise helps to release endorphins. These are the “feel-good” hormones in our bodies. It can be as simple as taking a walk outside or doing some yoga or stretching exercises. Some people prefer vigorous exercise to help them relieve stress, such as jogging, cycling, or playing a sport. Practicing meditation or deep breathing can help to ease anxiety and stress as well. Focusing on your breathing helps you to slow down your thoughts and be present in the moment.
Dealing with a life-changing transition can be daunting and overwhelming. Unfortunately, we will all face this situation one day. Being prepared, seeking advice, getting support, and taking care of oneself are the most important factors at this time in life.
Knowing that you are not in control of every facet of your life is disappointing and sometimes sobering but normally it is a temporary situation that with time will resolve. The residual effects of a life transition may be long-lasting (as in the death of a loved one.)
You have a choice when faced with these situations - stay stuck in time or try to move forward. Moving forward means that you have accepted the change and are willing to try to make your new situation better or more peaceful.
Change is NOT easy but it is inevitable.
Author Profile: Laura Castricone, Respiratory Therapist
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