Coping with Changes in Life in This Demanding Time
Major changes in life, or major life transitions are always a challenge but this particular time makes them even more so.
In this context, I’m using the term “changes in life” in quite a broad way. These might be changes that are imposed on us externally, by, say, a job change. Or they might be changes that seem to come from a more internal place like the transition that comes in midlife, or the transition into life as a older adult.
The major changes in life have always been matters of deep concern to human beings for as long as we have been human. One of the reasons our distant ancestors developed rituals and rites of passage was to enable human beings to better cope with change, as the noted French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep illustrated in the early twentieth century.
It’s not just unexpected changes that can be demanding or difficult. Even changes that we expect and plan for can cause us upheaval and stress. Also, it’s not only changes that we would interpret as bad that can cause us a great deal of stress. Changes that we would interpret as good can also be very demanding. For example, an individual may have wanted the opportunity to move to a certain favourite city or location for a long time, yet when it comes, the process of moving there can prove demanding and stressful.
Facing Changes in Life Now
In addition to all the other changes in life that we encounter, we are currently still living with the pandemic lockdown. The end of this situation may be in sight, but it’s not over just yet, and we continue to deal with its unique stresses. All the major life transitions that we’re undergoing are occurring against the backdrop of the most impactful outbreak of disease in over a hundred years.
This has a big effect, as I’m very aware from my experience with clients in this time. Situations that would be very demanding at any time can easily seem unmanageable against the backdrop of society-wide stress and trauma. Individuals are facing very important life issues such as: relationships undergoing change; the shift in priorities that often accompanies midlife; the loss of loved ones; issues around vocation and what is fundamentally meaningful in life, and many other things. Often people can find that situations that, at least until recently, seemed fundamentally containable and manageable are not feeling that way any longer.
People currently facing such changes in life can easily feel that their particular ways of coping are exhausted, and that they are experiencing considerable anxiety and depression. They’re aware of needing something different, but they’re not sure what it could be.
One of the things that we all have a tendency to do when we are confronted with a type of life change that seems insurmountable is to just try and “power through”. We can easily feel that, somehow, if we just keep on doing what we always done, maybe a little more intensively, the situation will be fine, and all will be well.
Often, this kind of response amounts to a form of psychological denial of what it is that we’re living through. It can easily amount to simply acting as if the change was not occurring. In the long run, it’s highly unlikely that this kind of response is going to do anything other than make the situation worse.
Well, is there anything else that we can do to cope with a changing situation, other than just hoping to “power through”? There are a number of kinds of awareness that it can be helpful to have as we move through major changes.
For instance, we need to stay in the awareness that major changes in life almost always create puzzlement and disorientation. We thought that we knew the rules! It turns out now that things are not so predictable.
Finding ways to connect with other supportive people can be very valuable for us in the midst of change. This is harder in the midst of the pandemic, but there are ways to do it that are worth exploring.
A third important thing to do is to practice self-care. Finding things to do that really feel like taking care of yourself are particularly important. This can include exercise, meditation, and also /a-midlife-transition.
Compassion for Our Changing Selves
A fourth and vital thing is to be self-compassionate, and to avoid judging yourself. It may take some doing to get our inner critic quieted down in times of intense changes in life, because it’s easy in times of intense change to feel that something is wrong, and all too easy to believe that what is wrong is really us—when we may well be doing our very best to manage unpredictable change.
As human beings, it’s also essential for our well-being that we are able to make some kind of meaning out of the change. Often, this can be where symbols and messages from the unconscious psyche can be of great assistance. For many, working with an empathetic and supportive /a-midlife-transition at a time of major life transition can be a valuable form of self-compassion.
With very best wishes on your journey of change and growth,