Adjusting to Life Transitions
Change is inevitable. Even positive changes require adjusting. Over the course of a lifetime, a person experiences significant changes. Many of these changes, such as job promotions, marriages, and births, are generally positive, but even these are accompanied by unique stressors. These are often exciting and easily shared with others.
Other life transitions, such as divorce, nuclear family member’s death, and moving, usually cause a highly significant amount of stress. Some changes involve the body such as pre-menopausal or major injury. Often times these stressors impact a person to the degree that it becomes difficult to share the pain involved.
Whether the transition is positive or not, anticipated or unexpected, adapting to the change is difficult. It requires mental and physical energy to adapt to change and find a new equilibrium. Imagine multiple stressors over a short term, such as a major accident, loss of income, and/or death of someone close. This can and often is overwhelming causing a person's emotions to freeze up. A person can go into“fight, flight or freeze” inflexibility. An example is to be stuck in anger or to lock up feelings and avoid them all together. A person can get interminably stuck in that mode. This is the time to make changes.
How sudden change and emotions impact your brain:
Understanding the mechanism that major stress reaction triggers is important. Emotional stress impacts a person's brain mechanisms. The amygdala, part of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, receives input from the environment, and signals this to the hypothalamus. The amygdala and hippocampus influence any memories that have significantly impacted emotions. Strong emotional events have an internal and continuing freshness. In other words our brain has a system that keeps vivid any stressors that had an emotional impact. This is much more so than other memories.
After the amygdala stimulates the hypothalamus it then signals our autonomic nervous system to trigger bodily functions to protect us, i.e. increased heart rate, higher blood pressure, and more rapid breathing. A person becomes ready to fight or run away. This is normal. So what to do now?
First, breathe (slow and deep)!
Focus on your strengths. Respect who you are and what made you the person you have become. Consider the knowledge you've accumulated during times you’ve successfully overcome or managed previous challenges. This is a new one but manage it, you will.
Take a moment to recognize change, however difficult, influences personal growth and can help a person become emotionally stronger and better able to deal with the world in general. It helps increase knowledge and clarify what is really important. Moreover it can enhance skills to help yourself and others in the future while being more empathetic.
Then breathe (deep and slow)!
Notice your self-talk. Keep it positive and strength focused. Stay away from fear and/or negative self-evaluation by adding up your abilities and strengths. It is possible to acknowledge your feelings while staying focused on your positive internal and external skills.
Evaluate your circle of family and friends for support. Is there anyone you know who can help or inspire you through this current challenge? Who can you turn to for inspiration and support? This is important in order to successfully manage major change. Additionally consider joining a support group of those going through similar experiences. They not only can be comforting but can give you ideas on how to manage this transition. A health care professional can also be of support and help.
For those changes that are inevitable such as retirement or empty nest here are some thoughts. Prepare ahead!
Retirement? According to the U.S. website on preparing for retirement the average American spends roughly 20 years living in post retirement. Most sites emphasize money management, so invest some time into checking this out. But there is more to retiring such as a new role, pastime, and changes in relationships. Initially there is the joy in the freedom then a sense of having a lack of focus, followed by trying out new strategies to create a stability. Pre-planning will allow these stage to be energizing rather than demoralizing or confusing. Discuss what you'd like to accomplish. Try out new ideas during your pre-retirement free time. Relish your own creativity!
The same is true of the "empty nest." First relish each independent step your child takes toward becoming her or his own unique person. Then follow much of the advice given above! Check out new possibilities early on. Any new adventures you'd like to try out? They can be cognitive such as learning a new skill (quilting? new language? writing that novel?) or recreational (archery? white water rafting?).
Lastly keep positive humor in your life! Keep the here and now in your life (play with a cat or dog as they are definitely in the here and now! And accept that change is natural and necessary.
Remember that if the change is simply too much that you can seek help from a professional. Therapy is an option for helping a person cope with dramatic changes in life that have led to stress, anxiety, or depression. A therapist can help you develop support options, coping strategies and provide education. Even better seeing a therapist for pre-planning prior to significant changes may be useful. This is one way a person can prepare and develop skills to face further changes even when unexpected.
Additionally support groups are of benefit to many people as they can provide assistance through universality, hope, and education. Others who have gone through similar circumstances can encourage optimism and faith that it’s possible to adapt to even the most stressful events.
The change or stressors may be out of your control, yet you have the power to make your daily routine to serve you. Sleep, exercise (a walk in the outdoors is very useful) and healthy food increase your sense of strength.
Changes in one's body or Serious injury:
The loss of certain bodily parts and/or function can include factors of physical comfort, career, income, intimacy, self-esteem and much more. The loss of hope is seen in many cases particularly when accompanied by other losses such as one's home or a family member's death. Overlooking the impact. on the self can led to severe depression or anxiety. Get support and professional help in all affected arenas; physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Menopause can cause an emotional reaction such as sadness and a sense of loss of control over one's body. It has an impact on self-image and even self-esteem. The loss of fertility can have positive and/or negative impact. may change your self-image and affect your self-esteem. Early menopause can interfere with how you see yourself as a sexual partner.
Hints on hot flashes:
Keep a note on the triggers (hot room, caffeine, alcohol, etc.) then extend your plan to reduce those influences.
Daytime? Keep a glass of ice water near and sip. Take slow deep breaths.
Night time? Avoid alcohol that will only wake you up later. Sip some warm milk as it is a natural relaxant. Try meditation prior to going to bed. Place a freezer pack under your pillow, then flip it over occasionally.