How to deal with ongoing change?

The only variable in this world you can count on never to change, to be your constant companion, is change itself. This construct of having a certain amount of control over our lives, has certainly been challenged by our recent circumstances. We have been forced to adjust our routines, modify the vigilance with which we interact within our community, as well as how we invest our resources like time and money.

As creatures of habit, change can be challenging and stressful. However, change can also lead to more valuable, satisfying and sustainable lifestyles. It is useful to know that how we view change, will impact us downstream. First, let’s acknowledge it’s totally normal to resist change. Change can be uncomfortable, often bringing with it new or old unfettered emotions, potentially unearthing what we haven’t yet dealt with. However, viewing change as a negative can have severe consequences on both a social/emotional and physical level.

The downward spiral of chronic stress not only shortens our life span but impacts the quality of life. It can cause sleep deprivation which leads to lowered immune health, increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Because chronic stress increases the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, this can lead to a desire for more sugary and fatty foods. This hormone imbalance can also lead to menstrual irregularities and difficulty with fertility.

On the other side, change can be a guide allowing us to question our routines, embrace transformation and create new opportunities if we give ourselves permission to view it from that vantage point. The benefits of adaptability include the opposite of chronic stress like increased life span, lower rates of depression and anxiety, greater immune health, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes — perhaps most importantly, a greater sense of well-being and overall satisfaction.

As we begin to look ahead towards the fall and winter, knowing any plans we make most likely will change, it is important not to allow these changes to cause us to be chronically stressed out. So how do we deal with change being more adaptable and embrace changes in life? Practice.

1. Stick to your routine.

Having some regularity in times of change can be a powerful way to stay grounded. This is a perfect opportunity to evaluate the routines you do keep and whether or not they need a tweak. For example, if your morning routine starts with checking your phone and you find you become anxious and overwhelmed with the emails and news information, give yourself time in the morning to do things like journal, stretch, meditate, drink a cup of tea or coffee and listen to the birds before checking your phone. It can be helpful to write your routine down on paper to really assess what is actually working for you. The other benefit of writing it down or keeping a calendar is it’s one less thing you have to remember.

2. Eat a healthy diet.

It’s important to know eating healthfully can actually mitigate the release of stress hormones such as cortisol which is known to add pounds, especially around the waistline. Foods high in sugar, saturated fat, artificial coloring and flavors actually cause our bodies to be stressed out! The very basics of a healthy diet don’t need to include a specialized food plan, although those can be extremely valuable when tackling a health condition. You can start by adding more vegetables and reducing the amount of processed packaged food you are consuming. As well, increasing your water intake and avoiding soda, caffeine and alcohol will also make a big difference.

3. Exercise.

Regular exercise has a cascade of benefits which include improved sleep, lowered blood pressure, increased metabolic rate, build bone density, improve insulin sensitivity, increase the production of natural antioxidants, reduce pain and much more. A rule of thumb, according to the Mayo Clinic, is getting 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. This can be broken up in to smaller chunks of time or can be done all at once.

4. Seek support.

One way to do this is by reaching out to a professional to support you. This can be an amazing way to move through trauma and other old, self-defeating patterns. Another is by making sure you are surrounding yourself with supportive, positive people who aren’t contributing to your stress levels.

5. Reduce social media and electronic exposure.

Much of the information about limiting screen time is geared toward children; however, research continues to prove we are all affected with negative impacts. Gray matter in our brains becomes restructured which impacts neural connectivity, influencing memory, impulse control, emotions, speech, vision and hearing. There is a link between screen time and metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure). The ability to process emotions in a healthy way is inhibited. Screen time usage has been directly associated to lower cardiovascular health outcome and increases your risk of mortality.

6. Practice gratitude.

Gratitude can help to deal with change in a number of ways. It allows us to be in touch with what we have in this moment, instead of worrying about past or future. Improving sleep, turning on our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and restore) and increasing happy hormones like serotonin, strengthens our immune systems, as well as our ability to express compassion and kindness.

Taking care of ourselves in these ways makes handling change more manageable, less scary and even opens us up to the possibility that change is ok and inevitable.

Dalite Sancic is a doctor of East Asian medicine at Rutland Integrative Health.

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