Take the Wheel when your Life Skids Out of Control

The only thing constant is change. Greek philosopher Heraclitus uttered those words 2500 years ago. And nothing has changed.

If change is a constant in our lives, why do we resist it? Why do we wring our hands, gnash our teeth, and bemoan our fate? It’s not just because we’ve been yanked out of our comfort zone. It’s also because we feel like we’ve lost control. We generally like to feel that we’re in the drivers? seat, steering our lives toward where we want to go. Change can be like that patch of ice that takes you?with breathtaking suddenness?in unintended directions.

Change that we instigate ourselves, like changing jobs, getting married, or having kids, tend to be stressful but manageable. But changes that we had no say in, like getting fired, getting dumped, or dealing with a loved one’s illness, paralyze us. The difference is control. We had a say in the former, and none in the latter, and we rail at the unfairness of it all.

How can we cope with unexpected and unwelcome change in our life? Here are a few strategies:

Embrace the change. Although this sounds counterintuitive, It’s effective. The difficult part about change is your loss of control over your life. The way to regain control is to do what you can to accept and embrace the change. Like steering into a skid to regain control on an icy road, you need to move toward the change, regain control, then gently steer your life in the direction you want to go. The key is acceptance: accept that it happened, recognize where you are now, and make a plan to move forward.

Find the positives. Maybe you just got fired, or your spouse walked out. That sucks. But few situations are wholly bad. Most changes bring a mix of positives and negatives, and we determine whether the change is good or bad by whether positives outweigh the negatives or the other way around. Start a list of any positive effects this change could have. Got fired? Well, now you don’t have fight rush hour traffic, or deal with that annoying co-worker. Spouse left? So long, mounds of laundry; sayonara, mother-in-law! Keep adding to the list until it makes you smile.

One thing at a time. You won’t find many positives in some cases such as sudden illness or injury. In these life-changers, the old adage of taking one day at a time is applicable. don’t make a difficult situation worse by catastrophizing, mentally listing all the things that may need to be done on top of those that actually will have to be done. There may be months of decisions ahead, but thinking about all those decisions, and potential decisions, is too overwhelming and may induce inaction. You don’t need to make months of decisions in one day. You really only need to think about the next decision: what needs to be done right now? Once that decision or action is taken, then focus on the next single act.

Be a friend or call a friend. If change is overwhelming, it may be that you need a bit of perspective. Can you step back and look at the situation as though through someone else’s eyes? What would you tell a friend in this situation? If you can’t get adequate perspective on a problem, call a friend for advice. You may not end up taking any advice, but just hearing someone list all the possible actions you could take may prompt you to plan your next steps.

Suck it up. “Why are your problems so much bigger than everybody else’s?” asked Georgia in the TV series Ally McBeal. “Because they’re mine,” answered Ally. When change dumps a bundle of problems at your door, naturally those problems are of high concern to you. Understand, though, that your problems aren’t as big to other people as their problems are to them. don’t count on anyone else to fix your life?you have to take responsibility and control. Wallow in self-pity for a short period if you must, then suck it up, pick yourself up, and do something.

Nobody builds resilience by having a cushy life. It is the hardships, and how you respond to them, that build your strength.

If change has been imposed on you, figure out what you can do about it. Stress is often defined as the perceived inability to cope. The antidote is action. What steps can you take to make it better, or at least less worse? Inaction will get you nowhere. Nothing positive will happen until you take the wheel, take control, and starting steering your life in the direction you want to go.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario

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