Updated: Oct 19, 2021
While it would be great if change was gradual and life gave you more time to get used to it, change typically works much faster and in unexpected ways, leaving you to figure out how to adapt and cope with it ASAP. Suddenly - life looks much different than what you expected.
For example, maybe you are:
in a brand new job or experiencing major change at work that affects how or where you do your job;
going through a break-up or other monumental life transition and things have changed super fast, like your living situation or long-term career plans;
a teacher or university student settled into in-person classes for the year when, suddenly, the pandemic changes everything to virtual for who knows how long; or
receiving recent news about your health or experiencing a natural physical change, and things feel like they’re happening all at once and are completely out of your control.
So how can you find balance when it feels like life is trying to knock you over?
To help people feel grounded when they come in feeling overwhelmed, we share easy strategies they can start practicing right away. Here are some you can try when feeling overloaded by swift changes:
Soothe your senses – before trying to understand what activated the intense emotion or anxiety you’re experiencing, focus on slowing the stress response in your body by using self-soothing techniques:
See – take in and focus on pleasant, calming visuals: trees blowing gently in the breeze, a walk through a park with beautiful gardens, or a trip to your favourite store to window-shop.
Hear – listen to soothing or upbeat music, pay attention to the sounds around you (birds, people laughing or kids playing, leaves rustling), or hum a favourite tune.
Smell – burn incense or a scented candle, open the windows for fresh air, or breathe in the smell of coffee or your favourite kind of tea. Even the scent of hand soap or lotion can help in a pinch.
Taste – eat your favourite soul food or snack, drink a soothing beverage (a hot herbal tea, hot chocolate or an icy cold water or juice), pay close attention to a food in the moment right as you’re eating it - really taste and experience all the flavours.
Touch – take a long bath or shower, cuddle your pet, put a cold compress on your forehead, run your hands over a fuzzy blanket or clean towel, or even sink into a comfortable chair or bed.
Practice radical acceptance – fully accepting the reality of something even though it really sucks. The alternative — rejecting reality by negotiating in your head about “what if it were different” — truly leads to more suffering, unhappiness, bitterness, and anger, all on top of the fact that it still truly sucks. Radical acceptance isn’t here to make you like the change; it’s here to get you to a place where the change no longer adds more stress and suffering to what is already happening or about to happen.
Start by noticing the issue you’re fighting against, like swimming against a strong current. Then flow downstream with the current – notice the thoughts that flow downstream (I can learn how to do this), rather than against it (I hate it! I want it to go away). As you try to flow with the current, find one or two thoughts that feel good given what’s going on and lean into those while letting all the others pass by.
Remind yourself that the unpleasant reality cannot be changed but there are reasons behind why it’s happening. Acknowledge the history and the intentions behind the change and try to find acceptance there.
Be creative in finding ways to use your whole self to accept new reality. Perhaps it’s through gentle self-talk, relaxation, mindful breathing, peaceful imagery or going to a calm, happy place to process which will help bring you to acceptance.
Practice opposition – list all that you’d do if you did accept the facts, then act as if you’ve already accepted them. Engage in those behaviours; imagine believing in the new reality and rehearse in your mind what you’ll do with this new change once it’s fully implemented in your life.
As you think about acceptance, attend to any body sensations that arise and notice the emotions that come up such as grief, disappointment, sadness or anxiety. Let them in and then let them be. Nurture your body as you would soothe a young child out of a meltdown.
Prioritize self-care – add or remove activities in your routine to make space and energy for the new change in your life. Maybe it’s adding movement (e.g., yoga, a short walk or gentle stretching) to your day, finding more ways to improve your overall sleep, or declining some not-so-necessary social commitments.
Practice gratitude for the anchors – while you’re finding ways and space to accept the change and adapt, spend time reflecting on what is already constant in your life. It could be anything steadily present, like gratitude for a close friendship, a warm and cozy bed, your favourite food or hobby, your beloved pet or your own home.
The goal is to find what works for you.
If life is throwing you curveballs right out of left field, consider the above your own catcher’s mitt, right there to firmly catch and support your next move. Whether one or a combination of these approaches work for you and the uniqueness of your situation, they’ll provide you with what you really need: the energy and space to accept, to regroup and to face the new changes you’re up against.