A good friend once told me, “Life is not what happens to you; life is what happens for you” (Renata Farah).
To cope with distressing circumstances, people need to learn to stay upbeat, control their stress, reduce their anxiety, and manage their frustration at the possible loss of a job and/or social involvement.
Life has become more restricted, difficult and in some cases, painful. To regain a life of contentment, we need to find courage to accept our new circumstances and to discover and implement innovative approaches to adapting to these problems. Acceptance and adaptability are likely to be major self-management challenges. Such changes will not be easy, but we must work through them to create a contented life for ourselves.
So, what can you do? Figure out the specific changes you must make. Plan your schedule to allow the necessary time to implement these changes. Break big goals into smaller goals. Reward yourself after you complete a challenging new task. Do not fall prey to avoidance. Do not let fear and inertia interfere with your progress. Do not procrastinate. And do not set expectations that are too ambitious.
Avoid indulging in maladaptive thinking. Consider some examples: “I know I’m really out of shape, so I’m going to get up first thing in the morning and run a mile,” and “I’ve got to do a great job and impress everyone with the design I promised to create. My reputation is at stake.”
Substitute adaptive thinking: “I know I’m really out of shape, so I’m just going to take a five-minute walk before I treat myself to a second cup of coffee tomorrow morning. Then I’ll gradually build up from there.” And, “I’m just going to brainstorm and come up with some rough sketches for the design I promised to create. Then I’ll reward myself with a half-hour of TV.” Such realistic thinking can enable you to achieve the results of positive change.
To change mood, one must change behaviour. What can you do? Participate in activities you enjoy. Adapt old activities so you can still enjoy them, perhaps in a more limited but nevertheless satisfactory manner. Try new activities. The initial process of adaptation to loss of something…can be difficult and maintaining a positive mood over time often requires extra effort and new coping skills. As you test new pursuits, make them more enjoyable by involving your family and friends. Maybe do volunteer work. Read intriguing books. Watch new movies. Cheer on your favourite sports team. Attend fun social events. Be inventive in coming up with different, new experiences to try, but do not create stress for yourself. As you change, try one new strategy at a time as you build resilience.
Sometimes something as simple as a change in environment can improve mood. Such change can be accomplished by moving to a different location, even just going outside or into another room.
To change your mood, change your thinking. Be positive, not negative. Model your thinking on the ideas expressed by a severely disabled young man who said, “Before my injury, there were about 5,000 things I could do, and now [there] are only about 2,000 things I can do. I could sit around and stay frustrated and sad about the 3,000 things I cannot do any more, but I’d rather focus on enjoying some of the 2,000 things I can still do.” This brave young man’s upbeat attitude sets an inspiring productive direction.
Stress and Anxiety Management
Stress can harm your immune system, spark cardiovascular disease, and “impair” your memory. Anxiety, which is equally bad, can make people worry constantly and feel inordinately fearful. The dangerous combo of anxiety and stress can irritate and depress you and can spark other problems. Those who suffer stress and anxiety often overeat or do not eat at all. Many smoke. Others drink to dangerous excess. Physical exercise improves mood and self-confidence and, as a bonus, also helps the brain to function better.
To minimize anxiety and stress, lie down and, one by one, tense and then relax each of your muscles. Practice “relaxed breathing.” Doing whatever exercise you can manage will help you become less tense and stressed out, so exercise regularly.
Evoke beautiful mental imagery. Create calming images in your mind’s eye. Just turn on your imagination and visually transport yourself to gorgeous vistas to calm down and relax.
The brain can stop working at optimum capacity due to emotional distress. Memory loss can be symptomatic of all these problems. Old memories often remain in place but making and keeping new memories becomes increasingly difficult. You may forget where you just placed your keys, the names of people you just met or tasks you promised to do. Memory loss can be frustrating, especially when you compare your failing memory with the robust memory you used to have.
“As you begin…accomplishing more and more, you’ll likely discover that working toward your goals is taking less effort.”
Specific proven techniques that can help you cope include:
- “Remembering future events, appointments and obligations” – Write upcoming activities and plans in an appointment book.
- “Remembering names when meeting people” – Your memory will hold onto a name better if you say it as soon as you hear it, for example, “Nice to meet you, Renee,” and then say it again when you part.
- “Remembering where you place belongings” – Follow the rule saying there’s “a place for everything and everything in its place.” Post a list of where you keep certain items.
Living proactively means asking yourself what action you can take to get the results you want. Each action is a learning process. Follow up by reflecting on your actions to get better results next time.