In the past few weeks I have been talking about life transitions. As a quick reminder (for more information you can go to the past entries), I discussed how both positive and challenging transitions can cause stress, that this stress can lead to symptoms that look like other mental health problems, and that you need to take care of yourself on a regular basis in order to be ready to deal with stresses and changes when they do occur. Today I want to give you three ways that you can problem solve to conquer any problems that you may encounter due to life transitions (or for any problems for that matter).
There are three fundamental ways that you can attempt to fix a situation you are in. You can change the way you think about it, change the way you feel, or you can change your actions. These are the only things that are within our power to make our situation better.
Thoughts. We have them all the time, even though many times we aren’t even aware of what they are. You may not even realize that they influence your feelings. Try it, think about a situation you have been in that could be interpreted in more than one way, you’ll feel differently about the situation depending on how you think about it. For instance, a friend gives you a compliment that sounds sarcastic, you can either choose to believe she is being sarcastic and feel hurt, mad at her, and insecure, or you can tell yourself that you misinterpreted her tone and be happy about the compliment and feel good about yourself and your relationship. This can be hard for people sometimes because our thoughts are so automatic as I said before. When you find yourself feeling negatively, however, take a look at those thougthts and work to make them more positive. Although it can also be difficult for some people to find that silver lining, with work it will begin to come more easily! There are also different theories of thoughts and how they have a greater impact on your life such as the law of attraction. If you are interested, there are several books out on the topic, but even if you don’t subscribe to those beliefs, they are powerful enough to make you feel better! Here are a few examples:
After experiencing a death:
-He is in a better place.
-He is no longer suffering.
-It was his time, he was ready to go.
Feelings. I often times hear people saying “I can’t help how I feel”. Although this makes sense at first, there are things that you can do to change how you feel. You can first start with your thoughts like we already discussed, but there is more that you can do to either change or deal with your emotions. First let me state that emotions are not the enemy. In fact, they are very important because they give us information, help us regulate the way we act, and even they motivate us, among other things. That being said, the goal is not to ignore or suppress your feelings, but to listen to them, act accordingly, and then to deal with them so they do not add to your anguish and stress. There are many ways that you can tackle your emotions, and I’ll give you a few examples but just keep in mind that this is not a thorough list. At times you may need to engage in some catharsis by talking to someone about how you are feeling, writing a letter to someone (even if you don’t send it), journaling, praying or by crying. You may choose to do something that brightens your spirit such as going for a walk outside and noticing what a beautiful day it is, paying attention to what you are thankful for and counting your blessings, or fake a smile until you feel better. Or you may need to engage in stress relief in order to feel like a stronger person.
Behaviors. Some people are thinkers, some are feelers, and others are doers. For those of you who are action oriented, you may find that trying to do things to change your situation may be more comfortable. You can focus on what you are doing in a situation and how you influence other people in order to figure out how you can change your own behaviors and hopefully change the relationship or situation for the better.
Now, I am not a religious counselor by any means but I believe the message behind the serenity prayer is wonderful and the message is important in this discussion. For those of you who are not familiar with the serenity prayer, it states “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The important thing here is that you cannot change everything and it is a waste of time and energy to either dwell on those things or to spend your time trying to change them. So the first step is really taking a good luck at your situation and determining if it is something that can be changed. You can’t change the fact that someone has died, but you can deal with your thoughts or feelings regarding the death. You can however change the way you act in your marriage so you can make it a stronger relationship. These three methods all overlap as well. For instance, you always feel bad after talking to your mother because she makes you feel like a child. You cannot directly change her or the way that she acts but you can prepare yourself mentally by remind yourself that this is the way that she is because you will always be her baby to her, and talking to her more like a grown-up may change the way she talks to you, and you may end up going for a walk afterward to deal with any left over emotions.