Facing change

All around, there are signs of change – a new crispness in the air, a return to autumn routines and activities, and the awareness that winter is approaching. Like many people, it’s my favourite time of year: I enjoy feeling re-energized, being motivated to start new projects, and reconnecting with family and friends at Thanksgiving. The changes all around make me aware of how often we go through transitions in our lives. A child moves away to begin school; we leave a job, relationship or city; we face a challenging diagnosis – the waves of change keep coming at us, whether we are ready for them or not. At times, we feel “on top of” the changes, and can ride those waves without losing our balance; at other moments, they overwhelm us, and we find ourselves under the wave. Partly, that is due to the time between the waves, and whether we have time to recover from one before the next one hits. But there are also personal factors  – patterns of behaviour and thought that build our buoyancy, and allow us to stay resilient in the face of change.

One very important factor is staying connected to others. Think of the people you want to spend time with, and how you could build those relationships. Is there a way to add one extra contact this week – to call an old friend, chat with your neighbour, or reach out to someone new? Letting someone know that you’ve been thinking about them is a great way to begin the conversation. You can also build connection through regular activities. Is there a club, team, class that you used to participate in, and have been meaning to rejoin? Spending time around healthy people increases your ability to deal with the transitions in your life.

At times, we do not have the energy to reach out – we need others to take the initiative and connect with us. In these situations, it’s important to say “yes” when help is offered. It’s difficult for any adult to admit that a helping hand is needed, but allowing friends, family, neighbours and professionals to contribute to your well-being builds these relationships at a time when you need them most. Take some time to make a list of the things that need doing (housework, phone calls, grocery shopping, repairs…), and when someone asks how they can help, share your to-do list and see if there is anything they can take on. Your friends will appreciate knowing what kind of practical support to offer, and having extra hands will save you energy, speed your recovery and strengthen these relationships.

Another important way to build resilience is to take good care of yourself, by exercising, taking breaks, and paying attention to your own needs and feelings. A brief word about exercise: countless studies have shown that it actually reverses the effects of stress and aging in our bodies. If you are able to exercise everyday, you will find that you have more patience, more vitality, and an easier time dealing with life’s curve balls.

Recognizing and acting upon our needs is not something we are taught or encouraged to do. In fact, our society measures and rates us according to quite opposite criteria: how many tasks can we complete each day, and how much can we resemble the Energizer bunny! Focusing on our own needs in the moment requires a major shift in thinking, and conscious exploration. To begin the process, check-in with yourself in quiet moments and follow through on what you sense is needed: it could be a 15 minute nap when your body craves sleep, or heeding your inner voice when it says “don’t trust this situation”. Staying connected in this way makes it more likely that you’ll have the resources needed to deal with changes as they happen.

There are many other factors that build resilience, which I’d be happy to discuss in person, but these two are a great place to start if you are facing change this fall.

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