How I Learned To Cope With A Major Life Change
You’ve likely heard the saying “the only constant is change.” We’re always in flux, whether or not we realize it. Life is continually changing around us, and when the changes impact our lives in a positive way, it’s easy to be excited.
You might imagine how fantastic what’s coming next is going to be— “Once I finish this 5K training, I’ll certainly be able to train for and run a marathon!” Or “The paint we chose for the front room of our new house is fabulous. I love my life!”
But what about the times when we get kicked in the teeth? How we cope with those situations affects us just as significantly as the way we handle the fun moments.
Allow Yourself to Feel
Recently, I experienced the death of my father. My family had been adjusting over the previous nine years to the death of my mom, the very heart of our existence. When my dad was sick and nearing the end of his life, I woke many days to texts from him that caused tears to roll down my cheeks.
Each time I checked in with my emotional well-being, I was astounded to realize that just underneath the sadness was an immense gratitude for having the opportunity to really feel the depth of the experience. Rather than giving in to emotional overwhelm (for me, that means staying extra busy and super efficient to mask what’s happening), I was able to mostly just be with all of it. I really allowed myself to feel my emotions.
The main reason I know to do this is because I spent many years doing the opposite. What showed up for me then was not being in optimal physical shape, keeping up unhealthy habits, and feeling a sense of disconnect from my core self. I hope that sharing some of my knowledge might help you if you’re going through a major life change.
Don’t Bottle Up Your Feelings
Not allowing yourself to fully feel a situation can have some very negative health consequences. Research shows that being a “repressor” (someone who regularly deals with stress by shoving it away) causes physical changes even as you insist that everything is okay. How many times have you said “I’m fine” when inside you really know you’re not? Utilizing this technique on a frequent basis can lead to heart attacks and strokes, especially if the emotion being stuffed down is anger.
Try to share your feelings, but only in an attempt to be constructive. Spreading happiness and even expressing unhappiness are effective ways to be real. It’s all about how you convey it.
We all know how it is to be around someone who’s authentic and communicative of their experience (as opposed to someone who spews their discontent or can’t seem to come down from forced positivity). Share what’s going on with others you trust, but don’t be an emotional vampire. And be careful with anger. It’s definitely beneficial to get that out, but only in a way that doesn’t leave a swath of destruction behind you.
Additionally, as I mentioned previously, rage can increase the risk of some pretty serious health problems. Over time, people who repeatedly blow up in fury increase their risk of heart attack by more than three times and stroke by nearly five times.
Practicing mindfulness will really help with taking responsibility. Try objectively observing yourself from a vantage point of not yourself. For example, I could say, “Look at Rebekah. She’s having a really difficult time with this issue.”
The idea is to first look at yourself in the third person, and then look at yourself in the first person, acknowledging that you’re having an emotional response, rather than letting that emotion run you. In time, mindfulness practice will lead you to a more responsible first-person view of your experience without getting caught up in judging the emotion. You can then try saying, “I’m angry. That’s one way of feeling. It’s okay that I feel that. Now, time to move on.”
Own it. Don’t let it own you.
Nourish Your Body
It’s easy to reach for junk food or quit your workout routine when times get tough. This is the absolute worst thing you can do if you want to feel better. Exercise has been proven to increase feel-good hormones. Studies also show that one of the best ways to improve your mood is to eat foods that reinforce neurotransmitter function.
Neurotransmitters send messages to your brain and control appetite, energy levels, and mood. When you’re stressed and reach for a cookie, your brain really digs that— at first. You’ll get a hit from the carb consumption, but over time, eating this way can cause weight gain and decreased energy levels and will actually cut down your serotonin (happiness) levels.
Foods high in vitamin B12 and omega-3s are good for your brain and body, bolstering the hormones that put you in a good mood. Eat foods like wild salmon, organic eggs, grass-fed beef, organic poultry, spinach, and sunflower seeds. Remember— you are what you eat, so eat the high-quality goods!
The deaths of my parents were two of the most difficult ordeals in my life. But I noticed something very different between the two experiences, even though I had close and loving connections with both my mom and dad. When my dad died, what was different from when my mom died was my lifestyle.
I eat veggies every day and work out regularly now. Alcohol makes rare appearances in my life. I usually eat homemade dessert when I have it. I meditate and engage in self-care routines like massage, laughing with friends, petting my dog, having healthy relationships, expressing gratitude, and taking responsibility when I mess up (and then giving myself a tiny break for having done so).
Most of all, what has helped me is realizing that I’m here to stretch, learn, and grow. And I can only do that by taking good care of myself.