Robin Sharma is often quoted for the popular saying, “Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous in the end.” Not many of us profess to liking change. We tend to fearfully avoid it, and stubbornly resist the inevitable waves that flow through our lives at various stages. Change demands a response from us we may or may not be prepared to give. Change, whether chosen or forced upon us, can bring incredible opportunity for something greater to develop than we ourselves imagined. But why is it so uncomfortable, even when we know it is good?
Blame it on the mess in the middle of change. The middle stages of change can produce stress, anxiety, fear and even regression. Philosophers call this phase ‘liminal space’, where one is on the threshold of something new, unable to continue in an old way but still not quite entered into the new. It can feel like swinging back and forth on a trapeze, reaching for the next bar only to find yourself swinging back again with empty hands still reaching. This space is uncomfortable. You may feel angry about it. You may get resentful and stubbornly insist on keeping things the same.
The lack of control we have over a seasons of change comes with a hidden gift. If you allow yourself to look behind the veil of fear you may find freedom you never expected. Dreams can be born, visions cast, ideas form and grow, and possibilities reign when fear is kept at bay. The transition is not forever, though there are ways to help yourself move through it:
1: Breathe. It is so simple and yet we miss the complexity of simply taking one breath, then another. Breathing reconnects you to the source of your life and brings your attention to your physical existence in the present moment. You are not stuck in the past, or anxiously waiting for the unknown future. You simply breathe in the here-and-now and let yourself remember that you are living for this moment.
2: Review and Reconnect with your values. Taking time to reconnect to the things that are important to you allows you to set aside the unknown change for a moment, and tune-in to your own personhood. The mess of change may challenge your values, but reminding yourself of what is truly important and meaningful to you will increase your resilience in the midst of chaos and stress.
3: Hold it loosely. You may be tempted to “white-knuckle” your way through this season, holding tightly to what you want the outcome to be. Allow yourself to feel whatever may arise, and hold loosely the potential outcome this transition holds. You will not be able to control how every piece falls into place, and if you try to you will more than likely do some damage in the process.
4: Take care of yourself. If you are feeling stuck or anxious, try an activity that allows you to move your body in a way that you can control. Increasing your circulation increases endorphins and feel-good neurons in your brain. It also combats the stagnation of depression and feeling stuck, relieves tension developed by stress, anxiety, and the fear-response. On the flip-side you may find that your body needs to rest and heal. Slowing down and resting can be a way to stop avoiding uncomfortable feelings you don’t want to face.
5: Stay connected. When we are afraid or discouraged, we tend to isolate ourselves. Isolation reinforces fear and discouragement and down the spiral goes. While it may be wise to set boundaries for yourself with people in your life that do not know how to support you, it is important to stay connected to a support network that can show compassion and empathy when you are in the midst of a difficult season. Allowing yourself time and space to simply have fun and enjoy the company of others can reduce anxiety as well.
While these strategies may not usher in the end of a season of change any faster, it may just make this time of uncertainty a little more manageable and a little more hopeful in the process.