You know the proverbial fight or flight principle? Well, sometimes a stress response is neither – you pretty much just freeze. If there is a lot of change going on around you, sometimes all you want to do is sit down and breathe. You want time to stop – so that you can have a ONE moment where everything is calm. But sometimes, when all you want is to chill out and sit down – you can’t. Life has this way of moving forward, and it’s all you can do to just hold on.
Former students of mine have shared with me cases where even positive changes like a wedding, moving into a new home, a promotion, or a new baby have caused them to feel stress. The type of stress that causes them to feel overwhelmed, worried, or even sad. Often they are confused how positive events can cause them to feel negative feelings.
At the end of the day, energy is required to properly assimilate changes into your life. Planning a wedding requires enhanced communication and collaboration skills; moving requires sifting through all of your belongings and hauling them all somewhere else; a promotion often causes you to learn new skills and take on additional responsibilities; a new baby requires constant care and attention.
Textbook recommendations, my own personal experience, and summarized content of class discussions have led me to two primary recommendations for someone going through a great deal of change in their life. It boils down to two main elements: Plan and Flow:
Some elements associated with the change, even if it is the first time you are experiencing it personally, will be known to you. For example, there are usually certain things that people who are planning weddings, moving, going through a promotion or awaiting the birth of a new child can expect and prepare for. You can work to learn as much as you can from books, websites, colleagues and family members to enhance your learning and know how to prepare for the change that you are facing.
It is very important that you make time to plan for your change. Planning for change can include notifying the right points of contact, ensuring your finances are in order, taking a prep class, watching online videos, making a list, talking with people who have gone through the experience before, and taking advantage of every resource that can possibly help you be prepared for your new situation.
As much information as you might be able to gather in your planning phase, there will still be part of you that has the occasional FREAK OUT (all caps being completely appropriate in this case) due to the unknown. As much as you may have prepared, there are going to be certain moments (or weeks) when you feel a complete loss of control.
For those people who happen to be exceptionally skilled in the planning department, feeling a sense of loss of control is very tough to deal with. In these moments, incorporate the second principle when facing change – flow. Pay attention to what is going on around you, how you are feeling (even if it’s negative), and just decide to go with the flow. Don’t concentrate on everything that you have to do, or what is coming up, but just concentrate on getting through this short time until you have additional clarity. Focus on the here and now and what you are experiencing.
One solid recommendation for going with the flow during stressful times is – as counter-intuitive as it may seem in some situations – go do something fun. Make it something that you enjoy and that makes you feel happy. It can be a hobby, connecting with a friend, reaching out to someone you can talk to, buying yourself flowers, going on a motorcycle ride, sitting in the sunshine, writing a handwritten note, buying yourself something, or having a good meal. These are just a starter list of ideas! If those don’t work, getting yourself a Slurpee is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, even if temporarily.
Knowing that a change is coming is hard. Getting through it is harder. Using the principles of plan and flow can help you be kinder to yourself as you go through the process.