“When the music changes, so does the dance”AFRICAN PROVERB
It’s fair to say the music of the world has changed over the last few years. For far too many it’s still unfathomable how much has changed. But for all of us, there’s been a shift and we’ve all had to adapt to the dance life.
Most humans don’t like change. We want what is familiar. It makes us feel secure. But life is always evolving and we cannot control our circumstances. When the winds of change blow, our first response is to push it away and deny it’s happening. Eventually, we have to face the reality. It’s much like the stages of grief – first, we experience shock and denial, anger, bargaining and eventually, acceptance.
We are constantly evolving and growing, whether we notice it or not.
Marianne Williamson writes: Internal work is sometimes done more easily while sitting there thinking than while busily running around. A frantic schedule helps us avoid taking a deeper look at ourselves, but by midlife, such avoidance simply does not and cannot work anymore. Slower lifestyles, candles and soft music in the house, yoga, meditation, and the like are often signs of an internal regreening.”
For a midlifer like me, who values time and how I spend my days more consciously, Marianne’s words hit home.
Although the dance may be different for each person, below I share some ways that help me re-orient during tough times.
Ten activities that help me cope during major life shifts.
- Venture Outdoors
According to researchers, our environment can affect our mood, nervous, endocrine, and immune systems by impacting our blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension. It can make us feel anxious, sad, or helpless. Intense loss during the pandemic felt like the walls in my home were closing in on me and the rooms didn’t have enough air to hold the vast emotions raging inside me. I desperately needed to get out so I could breathe and be closer to nature.
Nature scenes can reverse that by reducing anger, fear, and stress. It also reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tension, along with the production of stress hormones. So, get out into nature. Pack a picnic basket and your favourite drink and go for a long scenic drive. Stop for a rest on a crest or mountain pass with a spectacular view and soak in the beauty that nature provides freely!
Winter is fading and the first signs of spring are beckoning with cheerful yellow canola fields and colourful daisies. Oh, September, how I’ll welcome your reminders that life evolves in hard seasons of endings and loss, but also beautiful new beginnings.
- Cultivate Inner Stillness
Meditation. Spiritual reflection. Quiet Time. It has many names. Essentially, it’s about finding a calm space to be still. Be present with yourself by gently allowing the emotions about what is happening around you to surface.
Take several deep breaths while allowing any feelings or thoughts to push through into the consciousness. Notice these without judgment and with curiosity. Then, breathe out as if you’re gently releasing any pent-up tension.
- Selected Digital Connection
Every morning my husband and I sit together to watch a 10-minute snapshot of the daily news to stay updated and informed. It’s seldom uplifting or encouraging. In fact, it’s rather disparaging. In the evening, we sit in that same spot, but we watch re-runs of old comedy series that have us in stitches. For that half-hour, everything else fades into the background, and we simply give our stressed minds and bodies a break.
- Self-Care is Vital
There is a misconception that practising self-care is selfish indulgence. False. It is a vital component of wellbeing. You simply cannot pour from an empty vessel. You need to rest and refuel to give yourself to others, including your family, parents, siblings, friends, and other social communities. This includes getting sufficient sleep and implementing some form of exercise that you enjoy.
- Clear Boundaries
Until I read Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, Boundaries, I was entangled in living up to the expectations of others. I was a people pleaser who couldn’t bear disappointing or displeasing others. Without clear boundaries, the line between doing things for others from a genuine desire or under a sense of compliance was blurred, and it tainted all my relationships.
Establishing healthy limits starts with respecting the boundaries of your own values and needs. Doing so will help you shift unhealthy relationships and curb unrealistic expectations of others.
- Mitigate Grief, Loss, and Trauma Triggers
Loss is a natural part of life cycles, and therefore it is crucial to find effective ways to cope when it happens. After experiencing multiple losses at various life stages, I learned that past memories of grief, loss, and trauma can be triggered for several reasons. Similar experiences can remind us of our past experiences and evoke those feelings. If we have not sufficiently dealt with our own pain, it will be challenging to deal with when it re-occurs, albeit in other forms. Unresolved grief can impact our relationships and our behaviours and make it challenging to cope with life.
There’s something else about the loss I didn’t realise until I read Shelby Forsythia’s perspective.
Re-grieving is an important part of life after loss. Rarely do we grieve someone or something just once. More often than not, we return over and over again to a loss with new information, a wider perspective, a different context, or a deeper meaning. It’s normal to feel like you’re fixated and stuck on one loss, but take heart. You’re engaging with it differently each time you visit. -Shelby Forsythia
This holds true for me more than 30 years after I lost my father. Every year when the anniversary of his passing occurs, there are old memories and love that resurface in new ways. In recent years, my family and I get together and remember my father together. We laugh, share our favourite stories and talk about the impact he’d had on our lives and how incredible it is to still feel so much love for someone who’s been absent from our physical lives for so long. We no longer push the memories of that day away. Instead, we’ve found a new way to celebrate his life.
- Spiritual Support
Complete a daily devotional that includes reading inspirational reading. For me, that includes reading scripture and spending time in prayer. Also, listen to uplifting music that helps you tap into deeper emotions that need release. Seek external support if you’re dealing with intense grief that seems too overwhelming to cope with on your own.
A popular African proverb says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. But adults need a village too. We all need support at times. There is no shame in that. We don’t need to carry our burdens alone when it becomes too hard to bear.
- Get Creative
What is the one thing that makes you feel the most alive and joyful? It is the one thing you can do all day, every day, without getting bored. Is it to sing, write, paint, cook, bake, knit, garden, take beautiful photographs, capture videos, arrange flowers, write music or play scripts, act, work with numbers, dance, teach, public speaking, or debate. For me, it’s journaling and creative writing.
Laughter is one of the best pick-me-ups to lift the blues. Watch comedies. Read funny stories. Act. Play pranks (safely). Do whatever gets you laughing out loud, uncontrollably, uninhibited. So much is beyond our control, and the future seems uncertain. However, we always have the freedom of choice about how to respond to our circumstances. Choose to find joy in simple things.
- Express Gratitude
Are you a cup half-full or half-empty kinda person? Despite the multitude of challenges we currently face, I bet you if you pause to think about the most valuable things in your life – relationships, health, mental clarity, a job, a comfortable home, running water and electricity, the sound of birds in the early morning, the beauty of a sunset, it fills you with a sense of peace and gratitude. Give this a try – for the next seven days, list 5 things that you can be grateful for every day!
What are your tried and tested ways to cope during major life shifts?