Don’t panic, adapt

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by Susan Prosser on February 23, 2010

Dear Susan,

I am overwhelmed by the number of things that are happening in my life all at once – my kids are growing and one is already finished his first year of university, my job is changing because of a new boss, my mother-in-law is ill and she has been a major support in our lives….the list goes on. It seems we can’t catch a break – how do you slow down the world a bit?
- BN

Dear BN,

My husband has a saying that “life is like a roll of toilet paper – the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes!”. You are listing a number of major life changes and if you have ever seen a Stress Assessment, you would realize that you are scoring very high so you need to be very careful as this makes you very susceptible to illness.
One of the key factors in coping with change is adaptability. Sometimes we forget just how adaptable we are and we panic and lament at how hard things are. Life is difficult and we have amazing internal and external resources to draw on. Humans are wired to be resilient. Often life diminishes our ability to adapt and cope with change and so it is up to us to work on making ourselves stronger.
The more resilient we are the less stressed we will be by change. Here are a few things to think about and work on:
1. Expect change. We tend to want our lives to stay the same because we are secure with the way things are so we hold on tightly to what we value – from possessions to people. Do you keep things that are of no value or use to you just because? Or do you still remind your 16-year-old to brush his teeth? Or do you cling to certain things from the past? Let it go.
2. Embrace change. Every day changes us – the kids are a bit older, our neighbour moves away, we have a few more gray hairs or wrinkles, we get a raise, we learn a new word. Find ways to embrace change instead of resisting it. Resistance is the main source of stress. If we do not accept things we fight them and even deny their presence and this causes inner tension. I see people who will not allow themselves to grieve the loss of a loved one because it is too painful to do. A year or two later they show up in my office with health or marital problems and they don’t know why. When they start allowing themselves to grieve things start improving.
3. Live in the present. I see other people who start worrying about change far before it happens – they don’t know how they will cope when their parent dies or when they have an empty nest. This creates anxiety and even depression. If we start worrying ahead of time we have no access to our ability to adapt. Remind yourself at how well you have coped with change throughout your life and trust that when the time comes you will find your way. Make sure you develop a community of friends and family that are there for you through thick and thin.
4. Make your health a priority. Life seems to throw many curve balls and we need to be able to handle it all. Maintaining strong physical health helps us to be stronger emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Make your health a non-negotiable priority. Find ways to improve at exercising and eating well, make sure you are sleeping well, having down time, having fun and being creative and useful. When life gets busy we tend to let these things go and yet our health is the foundation to being resilient. I cannot emphasize this aspect enough.
5. Lighten up. We tend to take ourselves too seriously. Trouble passes. Good times return and those pass too. We move in and out of change and somehow we survive it all. Laugh as often as possible. Watch comedies on TV or read the comics daily. Don’t take responsibility for something that is not your business (and that can be as simple as worrying about your child’s homework). Spend time alone and in silence. Meditate and enjoy the beauty of nature. Be grateful for what is.

Being alive requires us to adapt to change. Take very good care of yourself and allow others to take care of you too. Take very good care of others and together we do better. Keep breathing and celebrating life. This too shall pass.