How to Cope with Unexpected Life Changes

How to Cope with Unexpected Life Changes

How to Cope with Unexpected Life Changes

Many people think that you can plan out your life like a road map or that you have total control over your life and what happens to you. But whether we like it or not, our lives and the world around us are in constant flux. Sometimes we plan for change, other times it just happens to us even if we don’t expect it. However your life has changed, it can be difficult to adjust to this new way of living.

New and unexpected changes to our lives can be difficult to manage and deal with, especially if you can’t change the situation. Maybe you’ve had to become a caregiver for a loved one, lost your job, lost someone you love, or are a new parent. Therapy can teach you how to manage your emotions, understand and accept your new role, and use this new phase of life as a period of growth and self-discovery.


Practicing Mindfulness to Adjust to Change

What is mindfulness?

Practicing mindfulness means bringing non-judgment and awareness to the present moment. Whatever you are doing, whether it’s breathing exercises, yoga, doing the dishes, or going for a walk – fully focus on your breath and senses without thought or judgment. It’s about being aware of who you are and how you feel right now and accepting it. We need to stop fighting ourselves on everything we feel, think, and experience; instead, just be and give ourselves permission to accept these things about our existence so we don’t regress or remain stagnant or stuck. 

Mindfulness teaches us how to be fully present and stay in the moment. So often our thoughts are racing, or we are easily distracted by our phones, TVs, or things that worry us. Through mindfulness, you can learn to be more connected to yourself as you are, including your needs, values, priorities, and desires.

Mindfulness is a practice. It’s not a goal or something you achieve. It’s a state of being that comes and goes. Even those who practice mindfulness regularly may be distracted or find their thoughts wandering. 

How do you practice mindfulness?

You can be mindful while doing almost anything – swimming, running, knitting, cooking, and so on. But if you are new to mindfulness and want a place to start, find a quiet comfortable place to sit or lie down. Turn off distractions like music or your phone or TV. Take slow, deep breaths, but make sure they aren’t forced or too quick (you don’t want to start hyperventilating). Think about and focus on your breathing with each inhale that comes in and each exhale that goes out. If you find that you are feeling emotional, whatever those emotions may be, fully feel them. Don’t judge or shame yourself for how you feel. Embrace those emotions. What is physically happening to you in this moment? What is emotionally happening to you in this moment? Put aside your worries of the future and don’t dwell on the past. All that exists is now. If your mind starts to wander, don’t feel bad about it. Just bring your focus back to the present and your breath.


Accepting Your New Role

If you can’t change the situation, you have to move towards acceptance of your new role. Mindfulness helps you be present, and that includes being aware of the situation as it is now, and then accepting this new way of life that has been thrust upon you. Practicing mindfulness teaches you to not dwell on the past or fight the situation you’re in. When you fight with the past, you’re not being present. The ultimate goal of moving forward is acceptance. This may not necessarily mean you’re happy about what happened or how life is now. It means you aren’t fighting with reality, and there’s a peace that comes with that. Acceptance of what is leads to inner peace, contentment, or possibly even happiness.

First, reflect on what actually happened.  Recognize and accept that the event that led you here happened and you can’t change it. When things happen that were and are out of our control and further led to undesirable outcomes, it often makes us feel like the rest of our lives is out of control, even when it actually isn’t.

Then take a look at what is in your control. You are here today, still going. What is around you? What is actually happening in your life? How can you care for yourself and do well and be well? What is good? Break down what you do in your everyday life as it is now without judgment. Just observe. Mindfulness will help with creating more awareness of how you spend your time and how you feel as you live your life.


How to Feel More in Control

It takes practice to go from how you feel now to accepting what is and ultimately being at peace with what happened and how your life is now. If you feel out of control, like you don’t recognize yourself or your life anymore, give yourself time to reflect. What is not in your control? The incident or event that led to this point is out of your control. The event itself created the bigger picture that often feels like it is dominating every aspect of your life. But there is more in control than you realize. Yes, you may not be able to change the outcome, but as far as how you make time to care for yourself, manage your emotions, modify your perspective on the event (and it’s outcome), and make sure you maintain healthy outlets all of this can still resemble major parts of your old life and routine before the life change occurred. 

Examine what your role was before by asking yourself these questions: 

What was your lifestyle? 

How did you make your decisions? 

What were your daily routines and responsibilities? 

Who were your primary supports around you before? 

What made up your sense of self and identity?

Did anything change within those categories? 

Now ask yourself, have any of those changed? Have your values and priorities started to shift? Which of your responsibilities changed? What actually changed in your life? Quantify those things. You may be thinking, “Oh my god, my life has completely changed! I can’t deal with it!” But if you look at the areas of your life I mentioned above, some of them might have changed while others actually stayed the same. Or maybe you still have more control over certain areas of your life and you don’t have to let your new role change it too much. You may feel like a lot has changed, but if you give yourself the time to reflect you may actually see that only some aspects of your life were significantly changed and you may be able to maintain other areas of your life with a little work.


Setting Boundaries

But it’s also possible that it’s worse than you think. Is this new role and way of life harder than you expected? Is this more than you can take on? This is common when it comes to caregiving (including elderly parents or caring for someone with disabilities). There’s a lot of guilt that may come with that. There’s pressure that you have to be there 100% of the time, and no matter how hard you try or how much you do, you feel like you’re failing them. Or maybe you now have less responsibilities because of job loss. You have less people around you and a smaller support system. Shifts in life will happen – some greater than others – that will lead to the addition or subtraction of responsibilities and people in your daily life. 

Now you have to decide how you are going to manage those changes. You have the ability to determine if you’re going to push people away or incorporate people into your life as it is now. If you don’t take care of yourself and you decline, it leads to the people you care for taking a turn for the worse, too. If you are dwindling – your health and energy – you can’t fully be there for others. Your own self-care is in your control. We tend to focus so much on the incident and what’s bad about our new role, we forget to realize that we are still in control in some ways and to take care of ourselves. We ignore the stuff around us that helps us keep going – our friends, families, people to vent to, exercise, hobbies… Let those things help shape your new life in a way that is positive and healthy. If you are wiped out from taking on too much, take a step back, figure out an alternative way to manage this. You can keep changing your life by setting boundaries and focusing on the positive so feel fulfilled and content.


Here are some tips on how to set boundaries:

  1. Redefine Your Expectations: Life always comes with challenges. Accept this new life, remember what is and is not in your control, and face reality.
  2. Don’t Try to Please Everyone: You’ll never be able to please everyone or make everyone happy, so make yourself the priority instead. You don’t have to sacrifice your physical and mental health to please others.
  3. Communicate Your Needs and Be Honest: Be open and honest with what you want or need. You are allowed to feel how you feel and express those emotions and shift your responsibilities based on your needs.
  4. Be Flexible: It’s good to set boundaries, but adding in some flexibility will help you feel less stressed. Give yourself permission to go with the flow. Listen to what you need in the moment and use that as a guide.
  5. Let Go of the Guilt: Feel comfortable and confident with whatever decisions you make. Don’t force yourself to do something you’re not comfortable with. If the boundaries you set for yourself are making you feel more stressed or sad then you can change them.
  6. Make Time for Self-Care: One of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety is to take care of yourself. Carve out time for self-care, alone time, or time for whatever else you want to do that will help your overall well-being. If you start to feel overwhelmed, stressed, or anxious, take some time to relax. Meditate, exercise, take a bath, read, or do yoga. Just do something for yourself that helps you stay calm.
  7. Be Compassionate and Kind to Yourself: When we’re feeling down or dealing with unexpected life changes, it can be easy to get mad at yourself or beat yourself up. You are going through a lot – show yourself the same kindness and compassion that you would give to anyone else in your situation.
  8. Go to Therapy: Therapy can help you feel less stressed and more in control so you can accept, and maybe even enjoy, this new phase of life. If you are struggling with accepting this new role, time management, making time for self care, or want to improve your relationships, therapy can empower you and help you find inner peace.


You Deserve to Live the Life You Want

You may not have the exact life you planned for, but you can create a meaningful and rewarding life. If you feel out of control and need additional support, Dr. Heather Violante offers teletherapy to those living in New York and Florida. Contact her online or call (754) 333-1484.