How many of us began January 2020 with a great hope in what was to come? I remember many people discussing that this was the year of perfect vision because you know…20/20 vision is considered perfect vision. Maybe we began this year with hope that we were finally going to win the “battle of the bulge” by working out and eating right. Or we considered some of the things we do that need to stop because they are detrimental to our physical, emotional, or mental health. Then March 2020 happened—the world literally went into lock down as COVID-19 became a pandemic. Many of us have had to make changes that we did not plan on making. Some of us are contemplating new changes as we embrace the “new normal.”
Let’s talk about the little things we can do to make change. Think about what needs to change and why you want to change it. Write down your thoughts. Talk about them with a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor. Create a plan for moving forward to achieve your ultimate goals. Make sure that you create small goals that are measurable and have a timeline for each of the small goals. Celebrate the successes and give yourself mercy when you did not meet your goal. A setback is not failure unless you choose to not get back to work toward your goal. Finally, it is always a good idea to have support during times of change. Surround yourself with people who are equal parts cheerleader and accountability coaches.
What if the changes that you are trying to make are big? Changes that are big can feel daunting or even insurmountable. Big changes usually require research and planning. For example, if you want a career change you will need to investigate what training, education, and skills are required for the career. This may mean going to classes, getting certifications, or going back to school for a degree. I recommend taking it a step further and talking to someone who is already in the career that you are hoping to go into and asking them what they recommend. I would also recommend job shadowing because it allows you to see the good, bad, and ugly of a day in the life of someone in your chosen career which can save money, time, and heartache in the future. Another example is if you are contemplating a move, make sure you research the new location and think through your options when it comes to housing. Explore the area and what type of environment you are potentially moving into. This evaluation may include everything from crime statistics and school districts to learning whether grocery stores and coffee shops you like are nearby. After the research and planning are completed, it is important to get started on the process of making the big changes. These big changes become more attainable when you have explored your options and know how you are about to invest your time, energy, and money.
What about the unplanned changes that happen in life? There are so many things in life that change without warning and those changes usually blindside us. In October 2017, the university that I had been working at since 2009 announced that they would be closing their doors as of May 2018. This announcement devastated the entire university community. I found myself coaching my students in handling their grief and motivating them to finish well. I began the process of helping students decide what their next steps would be, and my own job hunt had begun. Then I was blindsided once again on November 16, 2017, when I received a call from my dad telling me that my mom had passed away. He had messaged my brother and I earlier in the day to tell us that mom was not feeling well and had her “Thanksgiving flu.” (She had a yearly tradition of becoming ill on or around Thanksgiving.) That afternoon, she took a nap attempting to feel better and never woke up. My life, which had already been thrown into turmoil with job loss, was now completely turned upside down.
COLOR BLOCK: Many people have chapters in their life that look like my 2017-2018. Life does not like to play fair with us and it becomes difficult to cope with all the changes that hit us. It can feel like waves of change and grief throw us down and every time we come up for air we get thrown down once again. In my experiences, both personal and professional, it is important to acknowledge the pain and find new ways to cope with life when it gets difficult. I recommend getting help to cope in healthy ways with the difficulties. Seek out counseling or surround yourself with people who will support you as you deal with your grief. Journal everything that you are struggling with and understand that your grief in the situation is normal and healthy. Find ways to relieve stress and practice self-care. Remind yourself that you are going through change and give yourself mercy as you work through everything you are facing.
Change is difficult for everyone. Whether the change is planned and positive or unplanned and negative, the human body deals with it in the same way. Change activates the stress hormones and people will find themselves struggling in their daily activities. It is important that each person takes time to recharge and refresh themselves even when they are going through a lot of change. Proper stress management includes: eating nutritious meals, finding time to exercise or get outside for a brief time each day, spending time with supportive friends and/or family, finding time to be quiet for journaling or meditation, and being gentle with yourself. Change is a certainty in life and can be difficult, but it does not have to be destructive. Keep getting up and moving forward; even if it is only an inch or two forward, it is still progress. Mandy Hale once said, “Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier? Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving, and progressing.” Conquer your fears and succeed in your growth!
By: Colleen Freeman is the Psychology Instructor at Northeast Community College in South Sioux City. She has her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and is a PhD candidate in Organizational Psychology. In her limited free time, she volunteers, exercises, and spends time with her family, friends, and fur babies.