The only constant is change. But coping with that is something we don’t talk about enough, says Suzy Reading
Daily rhythms, seasonal flow, the natural ageing process, and the many milestones of life that we tick off as we get older make change inevitable. Yet change is something that many people find deeply challenging, and something we don’t talk about enough.
As we emerge from an unprecedented time at home, we enter the next chapter of life (‘next chapter’, to me, feels less overwhelming than ‘the new normal’). Exploring the nature of change can help us understand our feelings and make the most of this precious opportunity to reset.
If you feel resistant to change, you’re in good company; on some level, most of us are. But there are simple ways we can make peace with change, welcome it and even relish it.
Why do we find change hard?
Inner reorganisation and a redefining of self are consequences of change. It doesn’t matter whether the situation is of your choosing or something in which you have no say. As anyone who has gone to university or emigrated knows, even positive change can be challenging.
In his book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges describes three stages of transition. Firstly, an ending. Secondly, a neutral zone, often characterised by shapelessness and confusion. And finally a new beginning, in which we feel clarity, renewed vigour and purpose.
Acknowledging that first stage, even when it is our choice, involves shedding. Grief is a legitimate response to that loss. And it can be hard to sit in the discomfort of stage two, the fallow time. You may feel pressured to make the leap before you’re ready, but transition cannot be rushed.
It can be difficult to navigate change and the work of inner reorientation. But there is much to celebrate. Amid the sadness, fear and awkwardness, there is exhilaration, excitement and liberation. Variety is the spice of life and transition is the stuff of which personal evolution is made. This is how we learn and grow.
1. CALM YOURSELF
Come home to your body and reclaim the ability to relax. There’s nothing lazy, indulgent or luxurious about this. Being anchored in calm keeps the physiological stress response at bay, allowing you to think with greater clarity, to empathise with others and to carve a purpose-driven path.
It’s not unusual in times of change to feel threatened and fearful. In this state, the body prepares to defend itself, diverting blood to the arms and legs to fight or flee, and activating primitive parts of the brain. It becomes a challenge to think straight, to be compassionate and to know where to start in dealing with change. Building a capacity to soothe your mind and body is fundamental to making peace with your circumstances.
Simple ways to release tension and soothe your nervous system include:
• spending time in nature;
• engaging in pleasurable movement, such as walking or yoga
• massaging areas where you habitually hold tension. To release your jaw, stroke your fingertips downwards from just in front of your ears, down your cheekbones, to your jawbone. Allow your mouth to open as you do so. Repeat several times. Drop the day’s burdens from your shoulders with shoulder rolls: place your fingertips on your shoulders and, as you breathe in, sweep your elbows forwards and upwards. As you breathe out, take them back and down. Repeat six times. Notice how much lighter and brighter you feel.
• Breathe better to feel better: elongate your exhalation for greater calm. Try six candle breaths: breathe in through your nose and slowly exhale through softly pursed lips, as if gently blowing out a candle.
2. FEEL YOUR FEELINGS
When we acknowledge the sense of loss induced by change, we see that grief is a natural response. To reorient, and form a new identity, we need to notice, accept and move through our feelings. Naming those feelings – of which there can be many at once – in a journal can be helpful.
Meditative practices can help us make space for our feelings, while breathing exercises and movement can dissipate their charge. And we can shake off our feelings, by shaking out our hands and setting the intention to release what we no longer need. Or try three lion breaths to roar away things that would be harmful to say: breathe in through your nose, then exhale with your mouth wide open and your tongue extended as far as possible.
3. TAKE ACTION
What can you do in a changing scenario? What lies within your control? Don’t let your mind linger on things you can do nothing about; that’s a waste of time and energy. Focus on what you /can/ do something about. If solutions feel elusive, let the goal be to nourish and replenish yourself. From this place, creativity and resourcefulness bloom, and you’ll find your answers in time.
4. FIND THE SILVER LINING
Refresh your relationship with change by considering its positive benefits. Even challenging times often have small upsides. How is this experience encouraging you to grow? What lessons are you learning?
5. LOOK BACK
Make a timeline of resilience, plotting all the changes you’ve overcome in the past. What strengths and skills did you draw on? You did it then and you can do it again. And you can return to step one as often as need be.
Suzy Reading is an author, chartered psychologist and coach specialising in self-care, helping people manage their stress, emotions, and energetic balance. Her new book Self-Care for Tough Times is out now. instagram.comsuzyreading