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Change. The word alone can strike fear in our hearts. Changes, especially major life shifts are often tough, difficult and scary.
Unfortunately, in life, none of us know what’s to come. In fact, one of the only constants in life is that everything changes.
It’s not a bad thing (even though sometimes it feels that way).
Change is necessary for growth and development. Some changes are very positive. We may receive a promotion at work, start a new career path, lose weight, have a child, or undertake a big move to a new city. These positive changes are ultimately wonderful and lead to new, exciting outcomes and blessings in our lives, but positive change is also stressful.
Even the worst situations we face—illness, divorce, the loss of a loved one—add to the richness of our human experience and cause us to realize reservoirs of our inner strength. But sometimes seeing the silver lining is hard (if not impossible) when times are tough. We’ve all had painful moments when we weren’t sure how to cope or if we even could cope at all.
Yet, life marches on. No matter how painful the circumstance or stressful the situation, time continues to move forward and the sun comes up again.
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So, how do we get through a major life shift? What can we do to ensure we not only survive, but come out better than before? Here are some coping skills to get through a major life change.
1. Give Yourself Time
Remember everyone heals at their own pace. There’s no set amount of time to “get over” any setback, major or minor. Some of us may find we feel better for a while, then later, waves of grief, fear or worries wash over us again. Whatever you’re going through, remind yourself there’s no normal time frame.
After going through a major loss, many of us realize grief never really disappears and certainly doesn’t heal overnight. We might wish these bad, sad, heavy feelings would go away, but chances are, they will never fully go.
In her book, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion reflects on grief and mourning the sudden loss of her husband during her daughter’s devastating illness. She writes, “We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”
Give yourself time to mourn the loss of the way life was. You may mourn not only the loss of a loved one or end of a situation; you may also feel the loss associated with a big change.
2. Let Yourself Feel to Heal
Blogger Erica Roman shared her emotional experience following the death of her husband while she was pregnant with her son. She explains how many times the emotions we show on the surface while we’re going through a challenging time aren’t necessarily indicative of what we’re really feeling inside.
“Sometimes I’m saying, ‘this is fine,’ to myself. But more often than not, it’s how I present myself to other people. I have come far in my process and for the most part I’m doing ok but I’m still standing in the ashes of what my life was supposed to be. Most days I’m alright, in fact, I’ve been quite happy lately. But if I’m to be completely transparent I also have days where I curl up in the corner of my sectional because it kinda feels like I’m being held.”
Whether you’re going through a divorce, the death of a loved one, or a big life change (a job, a new baby, moving to a new town), emotions are up, down and all over the place. What we need to remember is there’s no “bad” or “wrong” emotions to feel when you’re going through a tough transition.
Sometimes when we avoid our emotions or hold them all inside, emotions end up escaping in other ways. We can’t sleep. We snap at our kids. We break down crying in the frozen food section at the grocery store.
Allow yourself to go through the emotions of the situation, however difficult. If you feel happy, embrace it! Don’t feel guilty for laughing, even when things are terrible. If you feel like yelling, go for it! Watch sad dog videos and cry if you need to. Experience your emotions, because holding them in won’t help with healing.
3. Remember You Deserve TLC
When tough stuff happens, we might beat ourselves up about mistakes we made, play them over and over in our heads, or feel like we need to punish ourselves because was our fault.
One of the biggest and most important things we can do for ourselves during a challenge or transition is acceptance of what we can’t change. Realize what’s done is done, so even if mistakes were made, you’re still a worthwhile person deserving of love and care.
Give yourself a little TLC and focus on the things you do to renew and heal yourself. Get a little exercise. Visit church services to bring you peace. Reach out to friends who support you and will help you rebuild your confidence.
Many of us are responsible for the care of others as well—our spouse, our children, even our widowed parent. Remember while we’re taking care of the needs of those around us, we must also remember to address our own emotional and physical health. This will help us find strength and the fortitude to care for those other important people in our lives.
4. Find Your “New Normal”
There’s a lot of talk in trauma healing about discovering a “new normal.” Often, once we’ve experienced a loss, a change or transition, we may need to re-ground ourselves and orientate ourselves to what “regular life” looks like now.
Realize life might not ever go back the way it was, but we can find ways to help life feel okay and find control and routine in regular activities. Rather than undertaking a bunch of major adjustments, embrace regular routines and keep plans as similar as possible. Get up at the same time you always did, eat the same meals you’re used to and so on.
Adjusting to the idea of a new normal takes a while, especially when you’ve been through a major shakeup. Deal with what you can handle right now and give yourself permission to “tread water” when it comes to tackling big life goals or overhauling aspects of your life that are currently pretty stable.
There’s a tendency to want to completely burn your bridges and restart everything from scratch. Again, when many of us have dependents and people who care about us in our lives, it helps to take comfort in the stable aspects of our lives and build them up rather than pushing them away.
5. Focus on Healthy Habits
If you’ve gone through a life change, it’s more important than ever that you keep your energy and clarity up as much as possible. Sleep, eat and exercise regularly. You might not feel like going to the gym or socializing a bunch, but push yourself to meet the minimum standards of self-care. If you can muster a walk or eat something healthy you will feel stronger.
Sometimes when we go through a tough time we want to fall into less-healthy habits to comfort us or to numb us to pain and fear. Unfortunately, these unhealthy habits only do us a disservice in the long run by leaving us feeling more run down, tired and vulnerable.
Focus on the self-care you would encourage a friend to undertake. If your friend was going through a hard time, you’d tell her to get sleep. You’d encourage her to eat breakfast, even if it was only toast or a granola bar. Do the same for yourself.
View self-care as a method for giving yourself strength and energy to cope with your situation. View food as sustenance and nourishment. Think of eight hours of sleep as a way to allow your body to renew and restore itself.
6. Talk it Out
One of the best ways to get through a change is by talking about your feelings out with others. Even if the change in your life is ultimately positive—surviving an illness, letting go of a negative relationship, losing weight or starting a new career—changes still cause us to undergo stress.
Talking and finding support in others is one of the best ways to process your emotions and “get through” a tough time. One of the reasons programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers are successful is because they offer people a chance to discuss their feelings in a supportive environment. When we’re making changes, even positive ones, we need the comfort of others.
Therapy is helpful in dealing with grief, loss or change. Friends and support groups are also wonderful sources of understanding. Channel your feelings into creative expression through journaling, art, dance or other alternative therapies to help you feel connected and renewed.
Talking about your feelings allows you to express your emotions rather than holding them inside. Finding someone you relate to either in a trained coach, therapist or counselor, or in a support group setting is cathartic and brings insight and growth to your situation.
7. Pace Yourself…and Your Kids
If you’re going through a life change, it’s tempting to completely turn everything upside-down. Sometimes you may feel like, “Well my life is already in flux, so I might as well make a fresh start.”
All of us need routine, but particularly children. Sometimes we might ably handle a move to a new town, taking on a new job and starting new friendships, but while kids are resilient, they might feel overwhelmed by so many changes.
If you’ve recently undergone a move, a separation or other major life change, keep a close eye on kids for signs of stress. Changes in sleeping or eating habits and moodiness, shifts in attitude, lack of focus or problems with grades are all signs you may need to take a stress break.
Ease up on crazy schedules and pause lessons and events for a while. Maybe Little League or dance classes will help them form new connections. You may look at it as a fresh start and an exciting opportunity, but for kids they may need a break. They may seek familiar activities, foods, toys, and routine.
Staying busy certainly helps us all cope with grief and stress, but pace yourself and feel it out. Busy is great, but working everyone into a frenzy adds more stress.
8. Celebrate Successes & Silver Linings
Remember what you’re thankful for and try to appreciate the joys and silver linings in your life. Studies of terminal patients report that many people at the end of their life often feel a profound sense of gratitude. Despite feeling pain and facing the unknown, many want to simply surround themselves with their loved ones and take them in as much as possible. They’re grateful for their connections with others.
When going through a difficult time, there is nothing as helpful as reminding ourselves of those most important to us, and of all of the things going right in our lives (even when it feels everything is going horribly wrong).
When you’ve made it through a difficult day, celebrate. When situations are terrible and you’ve managed to survive the week, think of three things you’re grateful for,or three lessons you’ve learned from your situation. Reframing challenges into learning experiences shifts our perspective and helps us reflect on positive opportunities, even in the face of pain and sorrow.
If you need a shift in perspective, consider doing something kind for someone else. Tim Ferris, author of Tools of Titans said, “If you can’t seem to make yourself happy, do little things to make other people happy. This is a very effective magic trick. Focus on others instead of yourself. Buy coffee for the person behind you in line (I do this a lot), compliment a stranger, volunteer at a soup kitchen, help a classroom on donorschoose.org…The little things have a big emotional payback, and guess what? Chances are, at least one person you make smile is on the front lines with you, quietly battling something nearly identical.”
It seems counter-intuitive to worry about others when you’re struggling, but sometimes thinking outside of ourselves helps us shift our perspective, and find hope and strength.
JK Rowling famously wrote, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” Remember, when we feel like we’ve hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up. If you’re struggling through a tough time, keep going! You can do it.