Don't like change? Here are 5 ways to deal with change mindfully
There are times when change brings glaringly obvious shifts in your life and relationships, such as the changes that come with marriage, becoming a parent, starting a new job, divorce or moving to a new house. But there are other times in life when change is subtle.
Subtle change builds over time and is often felt before it is realised. You may find yourself thinking, “I’m not quite sure what has changed but something just doesn’t feel right any more.”
You may notice you feel less joyful and more overwhelmed and stressed. You may experience more tiredness, poor sleep, a lack of motivation, headaches or foggy thinking. While your emotional landscape may have changed, knowing what is causing that shift can be harder to pinpoint.
Maybe the long daily commute to work is wearing you down. Maybe your career aspirations have changed and no longer match your current job. Or perhaps you no longer feel happy living in the city or are craving novelty in your life.
Because these changes are subtle and have built over months or even years, they can go unnoticed for a long time. What had been working so well in your life can stop working. Yet, when you continue to live in the same way, tension starts to build.
When this happens, your body and your emotions will let you know that something has shifted and needs your attention. Knowing how to “hear” your body and identify what has changed will help you respond effectively to change, while also keeping your stress levels in check.
5 ways to respond to subtle change in your life
Develop emotional awareness
How aware are you of the changes that happen in your body and mind? Being able to notice what has changed and shifted within you allows you to develop your emotional awareness. Building your emotional awareness will help you notice and respond to change early and effectively.
I wasn’t always conscious of the changes happening in my life during the first year of my son’s life (no doubt due to being busy and sleep-deprived). I was aware, however, when life felt out of balance and I was feeling frustrated, exhausted, unmotivated and less joyful than I’d normally feel.
One day I remember thinking, “Why has everything gone from feeling great to feeling hard? What is different?” Tracking back through the preceding few weeks in my mind and looking for the areas of tension in my life, I realised that a massive shift had happened — and I’d missed it.
My son had moved into a new developmental stage and was becoming curious and wanted to explore the world. He didn’t want to sit or be inside much. So, while I was still taking him to cafes (which he used to love) and playing at home instead of outdoors, he was becoming frustrated, which in turn was also affecting me.
My son had changed but I hadn’t. When I realised this, I was able to make some changes. I stopped going to cafes and started going to the park twice a day and I organised more play-dates. These changes made a huge difference to his behaviour and happiness. Life started to return to a happier state of flow.
Being busy and always on the go can make it harder to notice changes in your life and emotions. When you are busy, it’s not just your diary that is full but also your mind. Busyness can keep your emotions buried — that is, until they become big enough to cause a problem and grab your attention.
Your emotions are your guide. By slowing down and intentionally setting time aside to check in with yourself, you can start to notice what is happening internally. By building emotional awareness, you can notice early shifts in your thoughts and feelings and take proactive steps to respond in a healthy and productive way.
Check-in: Have a daily or weekly check-in with yourself to notice how you feel, what thoughts are running through your mind and if there is any tension in your body. During your check-in time with yourself, try answering these four questions:
- How am I feeling about life at the moment?
- What is working really well?
- What has changed?
- What feels like it is no longer working?
Journal to find clarity: Regularly putting pen to paper is a great way to get out of your head and notice how you are feeling about your life and the challenges you are facing.
Mindfulness meditation: Regular mindfulness meditation allows you to slow down and create space in your mind so you can notice the subtle shifts in your body and emotions.
Notice your language: How you describe your life to those around you provides valuable insight into what is happening at a deeper level. Listen to how you speak to friends and family and notice if you sound overly stressed, tired or overwhelmed.
Notice your reactions: Knowing what stress feels like for you in your body will allow you to notice and respond to any tension building in your life. Do your shoulders become tense, do you get headaches, or does your sleep suffer?
10 signs that subtle change is affecting you
- Reduced happiness
- Low mood
- Feeling out of control
- Not feeling as fulfilled
- Not getting the same results
Realign with your values
Your values don’t necessarily stay static throughout your life. When you were younger, you may have valued freedom and adventure more than security and time with your family. Subtle change can occur because you are making decisions that are no longer align with your new values.
In her book The Life Plan, Shannah Kennedy says, “Values have a major influence on your behaviour and serve as broad guidelines to make authentic choices that leave you feeling more content, happy and satisfied as life unfolds. When your actions aren’t in alignment with your values, you find yourself without a sense of achievement or feeling out of control.”
While there are a lot of great books and online guides that can help you identify your values, you can start by using your emotions as a guide to give you an insight into what you truly value in your life today.
When were you happy?: Thinking over your life recently, when were you the happiest and most fulfilled? Feeling happy and content is a sign that you are living aligned with your core values. Maybe you were on a working holiday and loved the flexibility, so freedom could be a core value for you.
Good decisions: What decisions have you made recently that you were really happy and confident about making? For example, maybe you were really happy about a new job you have started because it allows you to think creatively. If this was the case, creative expression may be one of your top values.
Develop a solution mindset
When you can pinpoint where tension is coming from in your life, the next step is to move into a solution mindset. Devising possible ways to solve your current challenges is important if you want to effectively move through change and find your flow in life again.
Sometimes you will need to try more than one solution to find a response that works. Don’t be discouraged if this happens but know that this is part of the process of responding to change and working out what works and what doesn’t for you in your life.
As you try things to get your life back on track, your regular check-in time will provide you with the necessary time to reflect and see if your solutions are working well or if they need adjusting.
Find solutions: You can shift into a solution mindset by asking these three key questions:
- What are all the possible solutions to this challenge?
- Which will I try first?
- Do I need any additional support to do this?
For example, maybe during your check-in time you have noticed that you feel more exhausted and less able to manage stress at work and you have put on extra weight. On reflection, you may realise that with the start of winter and the cold and rainy weather you’ve stopped exercising as much as you would normally.
Once you are aware that the change in weather has affected your exercise routine and motivation, you could then look at new solutions to get back into winter exercise where you don’t need to be outside. Maybe you could join a gym, start an indoor sport such as swimming or organise to exercise with a friend to keep your motivation levels high.
Move past resistance
Just because you know something has changed in your life doesn’t always make it easy to accept. Resistance to change is not an uncommon first response. Holding on too tightly to how you like to live can make responding to change much harder.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes,” said Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. “Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Changing and moving past resistance requires a sense of “expansion”. You can expand by breathing into change, keeping an open mind and strongly believing in your ability to adapt.
Mindfulness breathing: When change feels hard and you notice you’re resisting it, work with your breath to switch off your stress response and stay in a calm state of mind. Taking 10 deep breaths is a great way to stay grounded and open-minded.
Grieve: Not all change is easy to accept. Responding to shifts in your life may mean grieving for what was and also what you may have expected would happen. Don’t be afraid to “own” and share the loss and grief attached to change.
Look for positives: Change is not always permanent. Where you can, look for the positives within the changes you have had to make in your life, especially if they are changes you were resisting.
Creative problem solving: Seek solutions outside your own mind by talking with trusted friends, family members or experts. Remember, two brains are better than one.
Self-confidence: Amidst change and uncertainty, it’s easy to forget your inner resilience and strength. Remind yourself of your inner strength by writing out the biggest challenges you have faced and moved through in life. Acknowledge and celebrate your strength, resilience and resourcefulness.
Protect your energy
Everything in life is so much harder when you are tired; change can be exhausting! Taking time to look after yourself and your body will allow you to think clearly and creatively and respond with confidence to the changes happening in your life.
Find joy: What activities make you to feel connected, inspired, energised and happy? Make time for these each month (or even better, weekly) to keep your “tank” full.
Connect: Studies have found that isolation and loneliness are linked to a decline in mental and physical health, so having good support is important. Organise regular catchups with the people in your life who support you, allow you to be honest, make you laugh and inspire you to move forward in your life.
Take care: Get good sleep, eat a healthy balanced diet, rest your mind and move your body. These four lifestyle decisions will allow you brain and body to stay focused and energised, ready to respond to whatever unfolds in your life.
While change can be confronting, change can also bring some incredible new experiences, insights and opportunities into your life. Be open to change. Listen to your body and mind and embrace the shifting nature of life, knowing you have what it takes to respond and grow with change.
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