Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Navigating the Turns in Life's Road by Tara Watkins

If there is one thing we can depend on in life, it is that change will happen. No matter how much we might want things to stay the same, or dig in our heels to try and stop our lives from changing - ultimately, we can’t stop change. 
Over the course of a lifetime, we can all expect to experience a significant amount of transition. In fact, you are likely experiencing a life transition right now. Examples of transitions often perceived as positive and joyous include graduations, moving, starting a new job, or retirement. Other forms of change such as a relationship ending, financial decline, and loss of independence are often considered negative, overwhelming or stressful.
It is not uncommon that while trying to make meaning out of difficult transitions we forget to utilize coping mechanisms developed from years of experience adapting to previous life changes. Sometimes, to help uncover these “lost” skills again we might benefit from reaching out to others, perhaps trusted family members, friends or professionals such as counselors, doctors or therapists.
Stress symptoms often surface when we don’t adequately use coping mechanisms to prepare ourselves for life’s transitions. For example, a person facing a significant change might experience depression or anxiety, fatigue, headaches, trouble sleeping or change in eating habits. Seeking professional counsel, especially when we find stress impacting our ability to function on a daily basis, may help lessen persistent symptoms.
Stress symptoms should not be considered an inevitable part of adjusting to life transitions. In fact, stress associated with life transitions might actually be preventable. The following tips may  help if you are struggling with this issue.
1.)    Research and educate.  Stress often develops out of fear of the unknown. By researching an upcoming change before it happens, we increase our knowledge base about the situation and may find adapting to a transition easier to handle.
2.)    Recognize the importance of holistic health.  Mind, body and spiritual wellness is linked with how we react to events in our lives. Nurturing this connection may make it easier to cope with life’s changes. For example, research has found that sleeping well, exercising, eating nutritional foods regularly, and participating in meaningful religious and/or spiritual practices improve our overall health.
3.)    Self Care. Participating in activities strictly for enjoyment often quiets and relaxes our mind and body. It is very hard, if not impossible, to feel stress when we are relaxed.  Thus, remaining calm in the face of stressful life situations may be easier when we regularly practice self care.
4.)    Limit the number of transitions you are making at one time. There is no need to try and implement more than one major life change at a time; in fact, what is most helpful is not starting one immediately after another. Adjusting to significant change usually takes time. When we make multiple changes at once, even small ones, we often do not allow ourselves enough time for an adequate adjustment period, which can cause unnecessary stress.
5.)    A temporary change in mood is normal. Transitions frequently require moving forward into unknown territory and leaving behind what is comfortable and familiar. This departure from our comfort zone may create a feeling of grief or loss, depression or anxiety. If emotions seem to be getting in the way of ability to function on a daily basis, it may be time to seek professional counsel to help navigate the situation.
6.)    Don’t get stuck thinking about the past or “what ifs.” While you may need to acknowledge the loss of what you are leaving behind, it is also important to not allow yourself to get stuck in continually reliving the past. Allowing yourself to become excited about the new chapter ahead in your life’s story may help you embrace change. 

7.) Don’t go it alone. It’s tough to process a major life transition without support. When we are feeling ungrounded, leaning on others may help. Whether a trusted colleague at work, longtime friend, family, or professional, seeking support from others helps maintain a sense of connection and perspectiv
When we successfully persevere in the face of change we become stronger, more confident and resilient individuals, better prepared to encounter future turns in life’s road.

Please note that if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed with figuring out how to navigate a recent life event, the Kesher social worker for your temple is available to help process the situation with you and, if needed, help with information and referrals for more ongoing long term support.

Rose Murrin, LICSW, is the Kesher social worker at Congregation Beth Sholom. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Emanu-El, and Congregation Beth Sholom. She may be reached at rose@jfsri.org or 401-331-1244.