Coping with change using mindfulness and self care
When life is in turmoil, coping with change can be a stressful and difficult. Suzy Reading, who is a psychologist and the author of Self-Care for Tough Times, shares her tips to help you cope with change in a mindful way
When life is uncertain, coping with change can be stressful and unsettling. In tough times, ask yourself, what are you learning about yourself, about others, about the world? Can you reframe this as an opportunity to grow, to develop a quality that you hold dear?
Zoom out and see if you can perceive a bigger picture, this circumstance anchored in greater perspective. Can you also extend toward yourself a huge dollop of tenderness and compassion – this is tough and it hurts, any human being would find it so.
Let's look at the actions you can take to take back control…
How to use mindfulness to cope with change
Surrender, acceptance and making peace with yourself are important, but there is a time for action too. You are not just a passive recipient of life. You can be powerful, creative and resourceful in response to life and you choose where you place your energy, attention and effort. The key is identifying where your control lies, what’s genuinely important to you and your available resources.
Mindful ritual for coping with change
Come into a seated position and ease out any tension in your neck, chest and upper back with some shoulder rolls and head turns. Drop your day from your shoulders and take a few relaxed breaths. Form a steeple shape with your hands by gently spreading your ﬁngertips wide and touching the tip of each ﬁnger and thumb together at chest height in front of your body. Feel the pulse of your ﬁngertips and the warmth there, noticing how this gesture brings a real presence to your mind.
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Next notice how the elevation of your ﬁngertips is echoed by the structure of your mouth. Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, feeling how the upper palate is like the steeple lifting skywards. There is a poise and peace here. Repeat the words: ‘I am the architect of my life’ and breathe life and belief into this statement.
Each time you feel a longing for someone to rescue you, or the desire to avoid the current situation, remind yourself that you can stand tall. Ask yourself, where can you take action now? Even if the answers are not clear right now, they will come. Can you just sit with the uncertainty a while?
Recognise your foundations
As we embark on a new beginning often we feel we’re at ground zero, or back to square one, and this can feel overwhelming. But remember, you’re not building from scratch! Every life lesson learned, insight you’ve gleaned, strength you’ve developed and skill you’ve honed has laid the generous foundations and scaffolding for this next chapter of life, even if it is vastly different from the last. It is all transferable, relevant and applicable. You might like to jot down what some of these lessons are.
Meet your ‘future best self’
As you feel a new identity forming, remember this a process rather than a destination. Your whole life long is one ceaseless process of becoming. Without putting any pressure on yourself, imagine your ‘future best self’. As the current crush of life events resolves, who would you like to see rise from the ashes? What kind of choices do they make? How do they talk to themselves and others? How do they spend their time?
You can do this in your mind’s eye, journal about it, jot down words or phrases, doodle about it or cut out images and words and make a collage. See this incarnation of you come off the page, form a relationship with them in imagined conversations and draw on them for support and feedback.
In times of challenge, ask yourself, what would my ‘future best self’ do, tapping into your inner wisdom. Know that every decision you make in alignment with this vision takes you one step closer to being this version of you.
In forging a new path you may encounter a myriad of decisions. If you’re facing a choice overload, see if you can reduce the number of options to get a clearer feel or reduce the number of choices you need to make right now. Do this in partnership with a friend if it feels overwhelming or go for a brisk walk and see if that brings greater clarity.
Rather than feeling there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision acknowledge that there can be several congruent options. It’s not about making the one right choice, aim for a ‘good’ choice. How do you know what’s a good choice? It will be harmonious with your values and it will draw on your strengths. You will also feel it in your body. When you’re at peace with a choice, you’ll sense it in your belly and your breath.
If there is discord, your body will let you know, so listen to that gut feel. If you feel stuck in indecision it might help to set some timeframes and use these prompts:
- If I take this option, what are the beneﬁts?
- If I don’t take this path, what will I lose?
- How will I feel if I don’t do this?
- What’s motivating me – is it fear, doubt, the inner critic or is it hope, insight or courage?
- If a friend was facing this choice, what would I advise them?
If you’re feeling weighed down by a decision, tap into a sense of curiosity. It doesn’t have to be an onerous task of finding the one right path. You don’t have to have all the answers right away. Don’t let doubt and the inner critic convince you it is too hard or that you don’t know enough. Plant the seed, tenderly nurture it. Don’t squash it with pressure and worries. Let it germinate and see what grows! There can be malleability too – try things out and if they don’t take flight, we learn from the experience and grow. Try these mantras to support you in your decision making: ‘I know myself’, ‘I am conﬁdent in myself’, ‘I trust my instincts’, ‘I have faith in my choices’.
Draw on your team for support
Who on your team can help you in this new chapter? It can be powerful just saying out loud what you’d like to set in motion, forming a psychological contract to help keep you on track, a kind ear when you’re tested and a warm hug to celebrate progress. Is there someone who’s been through something similar who can walk the path with you? If there is something you’d like to do or achieve, can you reach out to someone doing that to ﬁnd out about their journey?
Maybe you’ll need to look beyond your current circle and ﬁnd someone or a group who can mentor you in this new stage of life, or if you feel moved, you could start your own support group or charitable venture to connect with kindred spirits. There is great zest and healing to be found in being of service to others.
Firing your arrow of intent – goals to help galvanise you
Once you have clarity on new directions, forming some goals will help you take action. The best kind of goals are deeply rooted in what you want for you, not what other people want for you. They are anchored in your values and you’ll get clear on this when you consider ‘why’ you want to move in this direction. They are framed around what you want to do more of or become, rather than what you want to minimise or avoid.
Your goals will need to complement not compete with each other. They will also need to take into consideration the variables at hand – time, energy and ﬁnances – and because these are constantly changing, your goals also need to be fluid to be realistic.
How to make sustainable habit change
- If there is some kind of change you’d like to make, first reflect on what you are currently doing. Bring your current choices to the light, examine their ramifications and ask yourself, what do you stand to lose if you keep doing the same things?
- Dig beneath what you want to change and ask yourself why you want to do things differently. It’s your why that will serve you when temptation arises.
- For change to be sustainable we need to make it in small increments. Forget sweeping change that is hard to keep up, opt for waves of change. Address change by building one habit at a time. For example, with your eating, address one meal of the day at a time until it’s on automatic pilot and then you’re ready for the next wave of change.
Use your body to cultivate confidence and courage
Get out of your head and bring your plans to life using your body. While exploring these different shapes use ujjayi breathing to deepen your feeling of strength and resolve. You might also like to use the following mantras and observe how the postures give you a felt sense of these statements:
- I have my own back.
- I am my own advocate.
- I honour my boundaries.
- I speak my truth.
- I am capable, resourceful, creative, strong, resilient or ready.
- I stand firm.
- Nothing will blow me off course.
- I know my ‘why’.
This is an edited extract from Self Care for Tough Times by Suzy Reading (Aster, £8.99). Illustrations by Madeline Kate Martinez.