Sometimes it feels like the only thing that doesn’t change is the idea that things are always changing. In looking at our biology, our emotions, and our life experiences, the only constant seems to be impermanence. That can be a little tricky given that we are a species who generally likes to feel as if we are in control and operates best when things are consistent.
Why is change so hard? I think it comes down to not knowing what may be coming next and our fear about how we are going to adapt and cope. Our fear then causes us to protest what is happening and to figure out how to control what is mostly uncontrollable. We label what has happened as good or bad and we project about what could happen next. In our need to control what is going on we want to find a reason, something that we can do to avoid this happening in the future. We want to believe we can stop things from happening, and the truth is, we really can’t. Nothing we do can 100% guarantee what will happen next. We can try for an outcome, we can strategize, we can do what has been proven to work in the past, but there aren’t any guarantees because here’s the thing – control is an illusion. I’m going pause here and let that sink in because just writing that sentence and then reading it created a lump in my Type A personality throat. The idea of control is a coping skill and I think a valid one if we understand one fundamental thing. We can’t control what happens to us but we can control our response to it. Which sounds kind of 6th grade but in my experience it’s true. Something happens and we have two choices. We can figure out how to adapt to what’s happening or we can rail against it, ask why, and wish things were different until we are overrun with anxiety, anger, and stagnation. Now asking why and wishing things were different absolutely has its moment and it’s human to spend a bit of time doing that. But then if we want to move forward, we have to figure out how to live with what’s happened, and that brings us back to what we can control versus what we can’t and what to do about it so we aren’t stuck in protest mode.
Fear of change or loss can be paralyzing. To care about something or someone – a job, a partner, a child, a pet – is a risk and the fear of loss or change can sometimes prevent us from having experiences. The last thing we want to do is keep ourselves from experiencing love or joy because of fear right? So where do we find consistency when things are constantly changing? What can we do to cope when things change, when someone dies, we move, change jobs, have children, something ends, or something begins?
The next time you start to think about something that hasn’t happened yet, catch yourself and try to shift your focus. Remind yourself that right now, in this moment, right in this moment – in your living room, on your couch, in your bed, on your mat – literally where you are right in this moment, you are safe. Breathe.
Yoga and meditation have been my most valuable tools in coping with change. It isn’t easy, it takes practice, and it’s ongoing, but I’m getting better at it. My practice has taught me to breathe, to remain present, to stop myself from projecting and labelling. It has helped me to try to isolate the factors that I might be able to control and to try and stop worrying about the rest. I tell myself that everything is temporary whether it’s discomfort, pain, joy, or excitement, and that even if it feels it might, nothing feels the same forever.
Start small. The next time you start to think about something that hasn’t happened yet, catch yourself and try to shift your focus. Remind yourself that right now, in this moment, right in this moment – in your living room, on your couch, in your bed, on your mat – literally where you are right in this moment, you are safe. I started using this technique about two years ago. For most of my life, I’d wake up in the morning and before I was even out of bed I would feel anxious. When I started to pay attention to my thoughts I realized that I was worrying about things that I was projecting would happen. Things that might not happen, that probably wouldn’t happen, and there I was freaking out about them. Not to mention that even if they were to happen, freaking out about them wasn’t going to stop them from happening.
Sometimes things change because we make choices and sometimes things just happen, but whether we choose change or not, it’s stressful. I know that I am not the same person I was last year or maybe even last week. My experiences continue to shape who I am. I didn’t choose a lot of the things that have caused major shifts for me but those events and everything that happened because of them have brought me to where I am now. I could label each place along the way good or bad, and protest why they had to happen, but why? Where would that get me? What if we didn’t protest or label the things that have happened? And further, what if we saw them not as isolated incidents that begin and end but as an ongoing story, as parts of a whole.
The things that have happened in our lives are part of our stories but they aren’t our whole story. I’m not done yet and neither are you. There is a lot to come that we can’t control or predict and I can’t help but think that if we could train ourselves to be present, to accept that we can’t control everything, and to understand that things are temporary, then our lows might not shake us to our core in the same way because while we might be sad or scared, we’ll be able to acknowledge that someday things won’t feel quite as bad. And we might be able to enjoy our happy times more because we’ll stay in the moment and not be afraid of what might be around the corner.
As always, thank you for reading, take care of you, and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions on this or any other wellness-related topic.