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WHETHER YOU’RE QUITTING SMOKING, SAYING GOODBYE TO A LOVED ONE OR MOVING HOUSE, LET’S GET ONE THING STRAIGHT: CHANGE CAN BE HARD TO SWALLOW. BUT YOU CAN AND WILL GET THROUGH IT. CATRIONA ROSS UNPACKS A FEW USEFUL TOOLS
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here I was thinking that I was someone who took change in her stride. Actually, I was deluded, simply because it had been ages since I’d had to deal with any major change. Then it came, in an intense two-week stretch in ‘Awful April’: my stepmother died; my mother emigrated to England (making me the last one in my birth family left in South Africa); I moved house; I hit a crisis point in my relationship; and – as if the Sewende Laan scriptwriters had taken control – a new family member appeared out of the blue, via Facebook. After a week of drama, I dialled a number I’d always assumed was only for those who found themselves in dire straits. ‘Lifeline, hello. How can we help you?’ said a voice. ‘Er, hi,’ I began. ‘There’s a lot happening in my life right now and I’m ... not coping. I feel like I’m going crazy. Everything familiar seems to have disappeared. Sorry, I’m going to start crying.’ ‘That’s all right,’ said the voice, kindly. ‘There’s a lot happening, you say. Tell me more about it.’ >
it brings, and one that can reward us with something better. Even when it feels as if some evil force has suddenly swept away something that brought us happiness, ‘our lonely times will come to an end and a new part of life will begin’, she writes. ‘The promise of “change is constant” is that new beginnings always follow closures. Consciousness is the ability to release the old and embrace the new with the awareness that all things end at the appropriate time and that all things begin at the appropriate time.’
Change is difficult, humbling and messy – especially so for the anxious, the controlling and the type-A achiever; but in reality it’s tough for everyone. And ‘positive’ change can be tricky too. On the life-events stress checklist, getting married is about as • Find podcasts and stressful as getting retrenched; changing information on handling to a different type of work equates with the change at First30days.com death of a friend. • Lifeline has a 24-hour In other words, if you’re moving house, counselling line: +27 11 422 enjoy! Just know you’ll end up shouting 4242 or +27 861 322 322 when it’s day four and you still can’t find or Lifeline.co.za your hairbrush. Pregnant? Congratulations! But you’ll also end up weeping with TOOLS FOR CHANGE exhaustion and questioning your sanity Whether you’ve suffered a break-up, started after your newborn arrives. a new job or been diagnosed with an illness, these tips Change is difficult to accept because by nature we’re can help you through a transition. creatures of habit who seek stability – the absence of change; but it’s futile to try to stop change happening. • Draw on support. Tell your inner circle what you’re As Dr Carolyn Myss advises in Anatomy of the Spirit: going through and how you’re feeling, and accept help The Seven Stages of Power and Healing, ‘Trying to when it’s offered. At work, consider speaking to the make things remain the same is useless as well as HR manager if your performance is being affected. impossible. Our task is to contribute the best of our If you’re quitting drink or drugs, for example, join a energy to every situation with the understanding support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous. that we influence, but do not control, what we will Use all the resources available to you and your family, experience tomorrow.’ such as your school counsellor. Seek professional We may mentally understand the old truth that help if necessary: consult a therapist or speak to a ‘change is constant’, but when change occurs in our own volunteer at an organisation like Lifeline. lives, ‘this truth terrorises us,’ Dr Myss points out. In her • Be patient and gentle with yourself. It’s normal to view, change is an inevitable part of our individual life feel upset and moody amid change. Remind yourself journey, one that can be trusted, despite the challenges that it takes time to get used to things.
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HARDSHIP AND NEW BEGINNINGS
A retrenchment, for example, means you no longer have your work identity to define you, and might need time to adjust to feeling good about yourself without the old label. • Take care of yourself. Eat healthily, drink plenty of water, get enough sleep, and exercise regularly. This is vital during transitions, as it will smooth out the emotions and help you cope better. Studies show that even a five-minute walk or stretch helps your mood: the brain produces endorphins and boosts serotonin levels in a way proven to decrease melancholy. If you’ve quit smoking, exercise helps reduce cravings. • Prioritise regular relaxation and fun activities. Make time for meditation, walks with a friend, an hour to potter around or read in bed, for instance.
Trim down your to-do list to the absolute bare essentials, and make a point of scheduling activities for the sheer enjoyment factor. • Replace blame with honesty. ‘During change, we often look for someone to blame for the pain or stress that we’re experiencing,’ says transition specialist Ariane de Bonvoisin. When you find yourself blaming someone (especially yourself ), get honest and ask yourself, ‘what’s the truth?’, ‘what’s really happening?’ and ‘what can I do to make it better?’ • Practise gratitude. Training yourself to count your blessings daily – listing what you’re grateful for and what’s going well – can instil an undercurrent of gratitude that gives you strength and courage to face any future change.
A S K YO U R S E L F B E T T E R Q U E S T I O N S ‘When going through a change, we immediately begin asking ourselves disempowering questions,’ says transition specialist Ariane de Bonvoisin, US author of The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier, whose website first30Days.com helps people through the first month of any new experience or enterprise. We ask, ‘How could this
have happened to me?’ or ‘how will I get through this?’ or ‘will I ever feel good again?’ If it’s a positive change, like a promotion or a new baby, we might be inclined to ask, ‘Do I have what it takes to succeed?’ Instead, ask yourself better questions. • What could be great about this change? • Who can help me through this change?
• What good things in my life haven’t changed? You can’t always control the changes in your life but you can control your words, thoughts and feelings. Swap victim vocabulary for words that are uplifting and empowering, and start to control the movies that play in your mind: ‘You have the power to make them bright, dark, negative, lonely or uplifting,’ Ariane says.
A N ECE S S A RY PA I N: T H E PHASES OF B E R E AV E M E N T ‘Mourning is the process of adapting to the losses of our life,’ writes Judith Viorst, author of Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow. If you’ve lost someone, through death, divorce or even the end of a friendship, expect shock, numbness and a sense of disbelief; then a longer phase of intense pain characterised by crying, mood swings, lethargy, hyperactivity, anger, separation anxiety and despair; and finally, the ‘completion’ phase: sadness, but also acceptance and adaptation. ‘We recover our stability, and the capacity to enjoy and invest in life,’ Viorst explains.