Change is one of the most common reasons people come to therapy. Many people are experiencing the challenges and changes that come with life. Most change happens slowly overtime, and people tend to be able to adjust to these easily because these changes are hardly noticeable. But anytime people experience a big change (e.g., moving, a baby, divorce, death, etc.), even positive ones (e.g., a baby, a marriage, job promotion, etc.), our brains detect this as a threat.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. When I was in high school, my neighbor was driving us to school when she had the left turn arrow, and a car coming from the opposite side of the street ran the red light. For a while after the accident my brain, would “sound the alarm” that it wasn’t safe to be a passenger in a car. My brain did this because it has one job: to keep me alive. Every time I was a passenger in a car for the next several days after the accident, my brain’s alarm system would go off and try to tell me it wasn’t safe to be in the car. If I had listened to this alarm system, and not been a passenger in the car, even for a short time, I would have had a difficult time getting over this fear. It also could have led to me having to drive everywhere and never let anyone else drive, or it might have led me to stay home all the time. And while these solutions may have worked in the short term, in the long run, it would have been problematic.
The part of the brain that is responsible for this has one job and it takes all our experiences and files them away so that it can make predictions about the future. Because when it makes the right predictions, it can literally save our lives. When it makes the wrong predictions, it can keep us stuck. This is why change is so hard. The part of the brain that makes a prediction that big changes are a threat to our very lives, will try to get us to do everything we can to avoid that change.
Why is this helpful in learning how to handle change better? It’s helpful because when we realize that our brains are just trying to keep us safe because it registers change as a threat, then we can give it new information.
Researchers have discovered that people’s ability to adapt to change, largely depends on what they tell themselves about the change. For example, if you’re moving to a new city, and you tell yourself, “This is going to be the worst place ever.” Then your brain will automatically look and FIND all the things that prove that city IS the worst place ever. Your brain will see the trash everywhere, notice how unfriendly everyone is, and find all of the things that make that city the worst. If, however you tell your brain, “This is an exciting opportunity to check out new restaurants, see what the city has to offer, and make new friends.” Your brain will start to notice all the trashcans around the city (people just aren’t using them), where to find friendly people and all the exciting opportunities the new city has to offer.
As I said in last week’s blog, this Pandemic has caused many people to have a lot of anxiety, even when they’re not experiencing so-called “big changes.” One of the reasons I think many people are dealing with intense anxiety, is that the Pandemic literally changed our world for several reasons. Some of the less obvious reasons it has changed things is because of the trickle-down effect. I’ve noticed higher prices on groceries, gas, lumber, new and used cars, just to name a few. While I don’t know the reasons for all of these things being more expensive, I know it’s because, if you look at the supply chain, somewhere down the line, something wasn’t able to be manufactured during self-quarantine. It’s been an adjustment trying to plan for things and it not necessarily be available, or it if is, we must pay much more than we would have a year and a half ago. I realize this is just a small example of how the Pandemic is affecting our everyday lives, it is certainly a contributing factor to why so many people are anxious right now.
Here are a few tips that I hope will help calm your mind and anxiety as we continue to experience the “trickle-down effect” of the Pandemic.
Give yourself permission to grieve
If you read or follow anything I put out into the world, you know I’m a big fan of giving yourself permission to what you need to do. In this case, I think there are a lot of areas of our lives the Pandemic has touched, in big and small ways. So, it’s okay for you to mourn how the Pandemic has impacted you in big ways and small ways. I’m frustrated that a big trip I was planning on going on this month got canceled (again) because of the Pandemic. And I’m also frustrated that sometimes it’s harder for me to find the things I want at the grocery store for the meals I plan on making that week. I’ve realized the more I give myself permission to feel what I need to feel, the easier it is for me to move on. The more I chastise or am hard on myself for feeling the way I feel, the longer I stay stuck in that feeling.
Give yourself permission to rest
While I don’t always need to sleep to rest, I do find that when I’m feeling anxious or stressed, it’s helpful to sit for a few minutes, and close my eyes and take some deep breaths. I also love to include a body scan sometimes during this rest and reset. Other times, I need to go to bed early and just have it quiet. But either way, when I push through and don’t give myself the rest that I need, I usually pay for it in the long run, either by being exhausted for several days in a row, or by being short and irritated with my loved ones. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and listen to it.
Give yourself permission to ask for help
I think as humans, we are made to have a community surrounding us. Researchers show that people who are well connected with others live longer. I think it’s important to let others around you know that you need a little extra support. If you’re having a hard time, it’s okay for you to let your friends know that you need them. If you don’t feel like you have good friends to reach out to when you’re struggling, now is the time to be intentional about finding them and making them.
Give yourself permission to change your attitude
This really goes to the point I made at the beginning of this post, that researchers have shown that we work through things better when we have a better attitude. While this is very difficult to do in real life, it is one of the most important things you can do to quiet your anxiety. One of my favorite phrases, for people of all ages is for them to tell themselves, “I can handle this,” or “I can do hard things.” While it’s easier to say and believe that you can’t handle things or do hard things, that isn’t reality. In reality, your brain is trying to protect you from a perceived threat and you are able to handle and do much more than your brain is trying to convince you that it can’t.
I’m starting an Anxiety Management Group for Adults August 9-October 11 (No Group on Labor Day, September 6). We will be covering topics to help you be the boss of your anxiety! Check out our website and social media for more information.
I love working with highly sensitive people. If you think you might need counseling or coaching, and especially If you’re highly sensitive, please feel free to contact me at 317.496.0456 or email email@example.com. I’d be happy to hear what is happening and help you find the right fit for counseling or life coaching. If you are looking for help with burn out, depression, anxiety, trauma or behavioral concerns, you can read more about how I can help at my website peacefamilycounseling.