Life is what happens while we are busy making other plans. Change is hard. If only the good times would stay forever. Some women seem to be able to roll with the punches while others curl up in a fetal position in the corner. How you respond to life’s inevitable changes makes all the difference in the world in your happiness.
Why does change throw us for a loop? Change represents the unknown. The unknown is the dark, scary cobweb filled room in a horror movie. Our minds have the craziest talent for making up the scariest scenes and we don’t need much prompting either- just a little ambiguity and we are there with a horror flick.
Why can’t we just automatically imagine all the best possible outcomes? It’s really a defense mechanism that helps us survive. If we imagine the worst and create a viable solution, then we increase our chances of surviving it.
This defense mechanism is not designed to paralyze you and hold you hostage, but rather to spur you into action. So how can we use anxiety to make the best out of an uncertain circumstance?
When you are a busy woman with a full life and you are hit with a life transition (divorce, death, job loss, empty nest) you may feel like throwing in the towel. You have so much to do and can’t pause life to deal with it. Here are a few tips when it hits the fan and you have to put on your big girl panties.
See this as an opportunity for the best yet! Acceptance is a necessity for forward motion. Even if your circumstance is the worst thing imaginable, it could be the catalyst for the best thing that has ever happened to you. We often don’t take steps to radically change our lives. It’s just too scary. But when life does it for us, accept it and be open for new, wonderful things.
Change the story you tell yourself about the situation- the power to change your life is all about what you say to yourself. If your husband left you and the story you are telling yourself is “I am unlovable. My best days are over. I can’t cope with life and I will never find love again,” your brain believes what you are telling it and it will act and feel accordingly.
A way to reframe this and attract what you want and deserve is to say, “It happened. I wish he could have stuck it out. I have learned so much about myself in this process and am growing stronger every day. I will find love again.” Speaking to yourself this way will radically transform your mood and give you the boost you need to get through this difficult time.
Disconnect from tv, social media. You don’t have extra time, but you have to find it to deal with this change. So, if it doesn’t add up, you must subtract. You can find the time by disconnecting from entertainment that sucks up a lot of your time and energy. Focus instead on reflection, planning and journaling.
Prioritize rest. This is not the time to burn the midnight oil. Life transitions can be stressful to the body and sleep gives it an opportunity to rejuvenate. Track your sleep and aim for 7- 8 hours. Get rid of the caffeine before bedtime and practice a calming consistent night time routine.
Give yourself grace to grieve your loss. Change is about accepting loss and embracing gains. New normal takes a while to get used to and when you are already busy, you need some space to process this loss. I like to prescribe a time period for deep grief for my clients.
Take the space (a week, 2 or 3 even) and cut out all unnecessary activities. Say no liberally. Put a temporary halt to adding even one more thing to your plate. Make a determination to have your first answer be no, without even explanation. You may find this is a good practice to implement for the rest of your life.
Allow the roller coaster of emotions to run its course. Cry, scream, yell, be angry and throw the biggest pity party ever. When your time period is over, start the process of getting on with your life. No more feeling sorry. I am not saying that your grief is totally over. Depending on the loss there may be a part of you that carries that grief forever, but the deep grief space is over and it’s time to live life again.
Figure out what you can Control- When things feel out of control, you may feel desperate to find something that still makes sense in this world. Figure out what you can control and control it. If you get a sense of comfort from a familiar routine, don’t stop it right away even if it doesn’t serve you in your new life. It’s okay, you will stop it when you are ready.
Ask for help when you are overloaded. It’s time to call on your support system. Do not attempt to do this alone. If you already have a good support system, reach out and let them know you need help and be specific about your needs (I need a babysitter tomorrow night at 7). Don’t be surprised that people you thought you could count on seem to disappear in this time of crisis. Some people don’t know what to do or say so they distance themselves. Some feel overwhelmed and just don’t know what to offer. If you don’t have a support system, create one. Find a therapist or support group where you can get the support you need to go down this road.
Start learning. Your life is different now. You have embarked on a whole new world and you may need a different skill set to navigate it well. Whether you have just changed from coupled to single or you lost your house or you have a new illness, one of the best ways to cope is information. Learn as much as you can about your new situation. Read, take webinars or classes. Education shines light on dark spaces. The more you learn the stronger you will feel.
Re-evaluate your goals. Our goals are often based on our life circumstances. When things change, we need to evaluate whether our current goals make sense anymore. Maps are crucial to success in life.
Don’t make decisions out of guilt or fear- Use the rule of thumb not to make a major decision for 6 months. Also make sure that your decisions aren’t spurred by guilt or fear. Allow yourself the space to have some ambiguity. Your priorities will change as you settle into your new life. There will be time to make new choices then.
Create stress outlets- it may not be the time to take up a new activity, but it is the time to put back into practice things that have always rejuvenated or destressed you. Recall that one relaxing thing that used to cause you joy or peace and start doing it again.
Finally, help someone else who is steps behind you in the process. You will find that this last step is the most healing of all. You have come full circle. You are braver and stronger than you ever thought possible. Complete that process by helping someone who has just begun their journey. Research has shown that getting outside of yourself and helping others is one of the best relievers of depression and anxiety. What better gift could you offer yourself and the world than helping someone through the tough road that you have just traversed.
If you are struggling in this process. I am here to help. I have helped countless women see their way through significant life changes to the beauty that is on the other side. Connect with me. You are not alone.
Dr. Zoe Shaw is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship and life coach for Superwomen. Connect with her and join her free monthly newsletter for tips and encouragement for busy women like you at www.drzoeshaw.com