How to Handle Stressful Transitions
In this article, I’m going to share two main strategies that will help you manage stress during life transitions, and specifics on how to implement them.
There are a lot of things transitioning right now. We’re coming out of mandated Shelter-In-Place, mask requirements are being lifted, and lots of businesses that were shut down are now starting back up. Lots of my friends have moved across town, across the country, bought a new house, got a new pet, or even got married and had kids! Or, like me, you’ve also taken the opportunity to re-think your business.
With these transitions comes stress, anxiety, worry, and sometimes fear. This can lead to loss of sleep, feeling tired or downright exhausted, or being unable to focus. Even though we talked about 2020 like it stood still, there was definitely a lot happening, and it may be jarring to re-enter society after the year-and-a-half we’ve just had.
My two main strategies on handling stressful transitions are:
- Listen to Your Body, and
- Acknowledge Your Feelings.
Listen to Your Body
Emotional stress & anxiety take as much a toll on your body as physical exertion, and yet we tend to ignore it. Western cultures tend to value being stoic and “pushing through” using a “mind over matter” mentality. While this is effective in the short-term, and is necessary for certain situations (eg- life & death survival situations, natural disasters, fleeing from war, etc…), it’s unsustainable for more than a couple days at a time without seriously impacting your health.
Moreover, the intensity of your emotions is largely impacted by the state of your physical body. If your body is dehydrated, hungry, or needs exercise or sleep, it will amplify your emotions. Ignoring these physical states and “pushing through” will cause a downward spiral, further intensifying your emotions, which in turn makes it more difficult to take care of yourself, and on and on.
Here’s what to do:
- Take a moment to calm down, however you want to do that. It could be taking a walk outside, staring out the window, or even closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.
- Center in on your physical sensations. These are things like muscle tension, pain or discomfort, tingling or numbness, light- or heavy-headedness…
- If you discover a point of discomfort, do what you can to relieve it. Keep doing this with each successive thing you find until it’s gone. This may take several sessions, and possibly over several days or weeks, so don’t be afraid to take breaks and try again later. With experience you’ll begin to notice the beginning symptoms much earlier, and can head them off at the pass before they spiral into something bigger.
Usually one of the first things I notice is muscle tension in my chest. When I relax those muscles, I notice bad posture. When I sit/stand straight, I notice shallow breaths. When I take deeper breaths, I notice tension in my jaw. When I relax that, I notice a feeling of thirst. Ahh, the cause of all of this was dehydration. I get some water, and about 20 minutes later after the water has been absorbed into my system, I feel much better.
- If you feel tired, take things easy. If you normally exercise, maybe your body needs rest. Modify your workout so that you’re not overexerting yourself. If you normally don’t exercise, maybe add some light stretching and a warm-up to your daily routine. Even just 5 minutes of physical activity can make a world of difference.
- If it’s work that’s making you busy and anxious, make sure to give yourself breaks where you get to calm down and focus on yourself. It seems counterintuitive, but I tend to take more breaks when I’m busier. It actually makes me more productive.
- If you’re noticing that parts of you want to move, honor that. When I get anxious, my legs tend to get restless. They want to jump around and kick. Rather than trying to force them to be calm (“mind over matter” mentality), I will get up, even in the middle of the night, to stretch, do some squats, or even run around a little bit.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Feelings like to be heard and acknowledged, and they tend to explode when bottled up. This is compounded when our society labels certain feelings as bad, wrong, or inappropriate. Try to find some way of expressing them. The idea here is to get them out of your head and into a physical form like words, drawings, or even music. Once they are put into a physical form, they tend to be easier to identify, distinguish, and handle.
Suggestions: Write a Journal, Talk to a Friend
Write a Journal
The journal can be any format: poetry, prose, a diary entry, even a letter to your present, past, or future self, or to someone else. Any format that feels good to you is appropriate. Remember, this is for you, so make sure it works for you.
If it’s on a piece of paper, do what you want with that piece of paper. You can keep it in a notebook to read later, or to never read again. You can crumple it and throw it away. Some people will even light it on fire and watch it burn. (Please do this in a safe place so you don’t burn down your house.) Whatever feels good for you, try it.
If words aren’t your thing, try drawing, painting, or sculpting. Or even music; it could be music you’ve written/played, or a song that really speaks to you right now. Give your feelings a physical manifestation. This is just as effective as labelling it with a word.
Talk to a Friend
There are different people you can choose for this: siblings, parents, other family members, friends, coworkers… and then there are paid professionals: coaches and therapists. The great thing about paid professionals is that you don’t have to worry about straining your relationship by talking about your problems. It’s what we’re here for!
It also doesn’t need to be talking. You can invite them to just sit together, watch a movie, do some co-working, or even something like dancing. Side note: I am a partner dancer, and I strongly believe in the healing power of dance. Dancing is like having a conversation using body movement rather than words. A lot of deep-seated emotions that can’t adequately be expressed with words can be expressed through dance and movement.
Choose what feels best for you. Try different things. Keep in mind that what used to work one day may not work so well the next. What’s effective may also be dependent on the specifics of what you’re facing. This is all part of the journey of self-awareness and self-actualization.
If this helped you in any way, please tell me, I’d love to know!
You can email me at: Steve@CoachSteveYang.com
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