Welcome to spring 2020. Pollen, bluebirds and…. change is in air. We are muddling through unprecedented, scary, times together. We would rather be enjoying the extra daylight and warmer temperatures, but instead, on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID19 outbreak a world health pandemic. Thus, our anxiety heightened to intolerable levels. Collectively, we began to imagine worst-case- scenarios as our retirement funds plummeted, schools closed, and jobs were lost. Our worst fears started to unfold before our eyes and we seemed powerless to stop the destructive path carved out by a tiny virus. Creating a healthy mindset in the midst of chaos is pivotal.
At the time of writing, the ‘lucky ones’ are working from home while simultaneously teaching their children. The ‘unlucky ones’ are furloughed or now filing for unemployment and anxiously awaiting their stimulus checks. With all change, comes uncertainty, confusion, pain, and anxiety. Change also brings on, in very real terms, financial burdens, job losses, schedule changes, insomnia, unprocessed trauma, panic attacks, and mental health breakdowns.
To weather this storm, we are required to be flexible, dependable, adaptable, intelligent, and calm… how’s that going for you? According to the news, my social worker colleagues, my friends, and my social media feed, as a nation and world, we are not doing well with this unwelcome and untimely change. Anxiety is high and growing! Cultivating a mindset of abundance, growth, and prosperity may hold the key to getting through this transition with your sanity.
Change brings on Anxiety
Let’s talk about change for a minute. Change can come into our lives in many ways. It can arrive as a beautiful baby, a diamond engagement ring, or a corner office suite. Change, of course, can also arrive as a debilitating health diagnosis, the discovery of an extra-marital affair or the passing of a loved one too soon.
Additionally, change can happen at an individual level, across a community or particular subculture or change can impact the entire world. In the case of COVID-19, change is happening at many levels. Because this change moved upon us quickly, and has deadly consequences, you are likely to feel its presence with intensity.
OUr brain’s role in anxiety
Remember that change, itself, is not inherently bad, it is just different. However, for many millions of people change causes anxiety. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 40 million American adults are already diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And, now, many of us are feeling anxiety for the very first time or in a very different way given the statistics on this virus and changing economy.
So, why does change bring on anxiety? Because our brains are wired to protect us and the primal brain interprets change as danger. Thus, we feel anxious when we are thrust into change because it feels dangerous. Add to that our inherent fear of death and we have real recipe for disaster. Whether that proverbial disaster is real or imagined, it feels like the world is ending. However, I am here to offer hope. The purpose of writing this piece is to offer you a different perspective on change, anxiety, and COVID-19. Part of this will be leaving behind your fixed mindset and cultivating a growth mindset. When you change how you think, you can change how you feel. In other words, you cannot change what is happening but you can change how you respond to these events.
LIfe Coaching And change
I am a certified Seasons of Change Coach. This means I use nature and the seasons to help my clients understand change. Using the seasons gives us a roadmap for the process of change. It also allows us to understand exactly where we are in the change cycle. For many clients, just understanding their experience within the framework of the seasons allows them to breathe easier and it instills hope. Hope comes from understanding where you’ve been, how you got there, where you are today, and where you are going.
We are all experiencing change right now, and so, we are all entering the season of fall. I wrote a blog giving an in-depth explanation of the Seasons of Change model, which you can read here, but for the purpose of today’s message, I will give you a very brief overview of the model.
The Seasons of life
Think of summer as the season of hope and plenty. You are enjoying the fruits of your labor. It’s the time when everything in life is working well. You are calm, happy, and your thoughts are positive. The feeling of summer often comes with career promotions, a new baby, or an engagement. But, just as in nature, summer cannot last forever. Fall is coming.
When change enters, we are entering our own season of fall. Just as the leaves change color and the days become darker, so to does this happen in life when we experience major change. At the time of writing, the novel coronavirus is our catalyst for change but the change catalyst could also be: a divorce, retirement, a relapse into alcoholism, relocation, or the death of your pet. In fall, we take our cues from the squirrels and field mice- it’s a time to gather our resources for the winter. Fall is time for accepting and integrating that change has arrived. Following fall, comes winter.
When you are feeling overwhelmed by grief, lethargic, or depressed winter is upon you. Winter feels like it will never end, but it will. It always does. You will feel tired and you will prefer isolation over socialization. Just as a bear hibernates in winter, so will you. You will know that your season of winter is ending when you have a little more energy or you start reaching out to friends again. Just as in nature, winter is followed by spring.
Spring has a creative, hopeful, energizing feel to it. You will know you’re embracing spring when you start to cultivate ideas for your new life. You will also start to notice the colorful flower popping through the dark terrain and songbirds outside your windows- maybe they ahve been there a while but you just did not notice them. Your perspective on life is changing- in a good way. Just remember that whatever caused this change last fall, has changed you forever. This means your new life will look different than it did last fall. Spring is a time for experimenting with your new identity in the new world.
And, alas, we are back at summer. You will, once again, feel alive, happy, capable and confident. Things will, again, be steady and harmonious until the next major life change. Remember, change is an ever- moving cycle of life. We cannot and will not stay in one season indefinitely.
can we respond to change without anxiety?
Now that you have a framework for the Seasons of Change model, let’s get back to talking about the season of fall because we are in all fall together, thanks to COVID-19. Fall often brings about feelings of anxiety. Remember, we already learned that our brains interpret change as a danger so it is normal to feel some level of anxiety when we go through a major life transition. Within the past month, all of us have been thrust, unwilling, into this major change. So now what? Now, as we are entering fall, we must adequately prepare ourselves for winter. Here’s a simple list of dos and don’ts.
- Acknowledge that change is happening
- Feel your feelings; expressing them allows you to release them. Not sure how? Ask me!
- Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally by reaching out to friends, family and professionals like life coaches and psychotherapists
- Gather and take stock of your financial resources- review your budget, eliminate waste, and secure your investments as best you can
- Update your resume, make sure your LinkedIn profile is professional and complete, reach out to old colleagues. Make professional connections in preparation for any unforeseen work changes
- Review your options, gather information, assess the situation from all angles.
- Take time for integration of the news, the changes, and your new options
- Create a safe place for reflection. This may be a physical location in your house where you can light a candle and meditate or it might be a ritual like journaling each morning. Find a system that works for your personal situation.
- Deny that change is happening. Denial will definitely lead you further into trouble.
- Make a change now, if it’s within your power. Fall is a time for integrating that the change is coming or has already happened. Now is a time to gather resources and assessment, not taking major actions, if possible.
- Make hasty changes out of fear. Yes, you are scared and yes you need a job. But to the degree that you can, try not to jump hastily from the ‘pot into the fire’. Ensure your basic needs are met and from there continue to assess your options.
- Isolate yourself. This is not a time for going solo on or relying solely on your own perspective. This is a time for building your tribe or seeking wise guidance from trusted sources.
Restore Balance after change
It’s a normal human response to want to restore balance in our lives when something changes. But, just because it is normal, it does not necessarily mean it is good for us. We may want to jump into a new relationship as soon as our divorce papers are signed or we eagerly want to accept the first job offer after a week of job searching but it does not mean we should.
The most important thing to remember about the season of fall is that life is changing and our new life will not look like our old life. When we rush to restore balance (i.e. start dating as soon as our ex-moves out or buy a new puppy as soon as our beloved pet is put to rest) we are trying to get our old life back. The seasons only move in one direction and so too does our cycle of change. Next fall will not be a repeat of last fall. Yes, there will be similarities but they will not be identical because we are changing professionally and personally as we grow from each new experience and each preceding season of life.
mindset is key to managing anxiety
When we attach to a fixed mindset, rather than a growth mindset, we miss a huge opportunity for growth, personal development, and abundance. Yes, we all want the world to return to its pre-coronavirus state, but that is not possible. So, embrace that the change has happened and take time now to integrate what this means for you on a personal, professional, and global level.
It is crucial to remember that change brings about possibilities that you have not yet seen or imagined. Right now, you can only see the bad, ugly, scary side of change but that is not the whole truth. The whole truth of this change has yet to be revealed. Now is the time to trust the process of change. Think of a sleeping bear; when he goes into hibernation, he does not worry about sleeping through spring, he knows that in the right time, he will wake up and remerge into activity. Or, think of caterpillars. They move through the seasons of their lives only to transform into a beautiful, limitless butterflies. Imagine if they resisted change… can you imagine a world without butterflies?
the silver lining
If you are wondering how this current transition could possibly have a silver lining, think about another major life transition you have gone through. What occurred that you did not foresee? If you lost your job, did you land another new career with even better hours and benefits? If you went through a divorce, did you discover strength and grit you didn’t know you possessed? If you suffered an illness that prevented you from hiking and canoeing, did you discover new hobbies like writing and singing? Yes, you will feel a sense of loss at this time, but you will also discover something new and unseen. This time requires perseverance, agility, a hopeful perspective and maybe even a little faith. Embrace a growth mindset and possibilities are endless.
ready to dive deeper?
If you would like to know more about how to successfully navigate whatever major life transition you are facing, reach out. Or, if something written here resonates with you want to learn more about how to use the seasons as your guide for change, reach out. I would be happy to guide you through the steps necessary to live a fearlessly abundant life, even in the midst of change. I can teach you how to weather these storms, become stronger and fearless, and how to thrive once again. Schedule your free consultation today by clicking here.
Carrie Mead, MS is a Professional Life Coach, Psychotherapist, and Reiki practitioner based in Maryland. Carrie created Curiosity Life Coaching to help men and women successfully navigate major life transitions such as retirement, divorce, career changes, and loss. Carrie provides guidance, support and empowering exercises to help her clients redefine and enact on their life’s mission following a major life transition. Connecting authentically and compassionately forms the basis of all of Carrie’s personal and professional relationships. Carrie holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling from McDaniel College and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Gettysburg College. Carrie is a Certified Seasons of Change Coach. Learn more by visiting www.curiositylifecoaching.com