Self Care in Times of Transition (Top Tips, Tools and Theories)

The Dude reckons I should have called this Overcoming the Terrors of Transition.  I might yet hire him as my copy editor….

I used to think I was good with change and transition, back in the day (I also the thought I was organised and good with people, but that’s a whole other story). On reflection, back then I didn’t have as much “stuff” to juggle so I had more resources available to manage the things. Because that’s part of the challenge – because the scaffolding of routine or environment or whatever is removed, you need more self care tools to cope while simultaneously having less available.

When it comes down to it, my most useful tools for self-care in times of transition come down to managing the anxiety through various means, but basically variations on the following:

* consider the control aspects

* list the what-ifs (risk assessment)

* express the emotions

* find a metaphor for letting go

Consider Control

Psychology has a concept called “locus of control”, which describes where the source of the influence for a behaviour is (rough definition). So for a particular action, a person might be doing it because they are internally motivated (it makes them feel good) or externally motivated (somebody is paying them to do it). In general, an internal locus of control is better (for long and complicated reasons that I would love to explain but I must not get distracted!).

This matters when considering change because overall, a change we choose is easier to cope with than a change we had no say in. It’s very difficult to “buy into” something that you don’t want. It’s difficult for me to agree to stuff when I don’t feel like I have an option except to agree to it (I’m looking at you SEN system).

But it helps to know that there is a reason behind the difficulty. Also, it helps to find something that you can control. Sometimes this can mean doing research, or submitting a comment alongside your agreement-that-is-not-agreement-because-you-had-no-choice. Admittedly, sometimes there is nothing you can do. But fortunately this is not the only tool in your toolkit.

List the What-Ifs

Yes, I put risk assessment in my short list above, but I don’t mean it in that heavy legal “can’t have too much paper in case of fire” sense. I just mean it in a “okay, these are the things I am scared of happening” way. A sort of safe way to acknowledge your fears, even if you don’t want to confront them. And yes, I learned this in CBT type thing. And yes, it comes with the caveat that it can backfire (sort of – but that’s why we have other tools in our toolbox). I did a version of this at the start of the pandemic, and seeing everything written out actually helped tremendously. (Plus 6 weeks later I was able to look at it, chuckle, and correct some of my estimates.)

It’s important to find a way to do this that feels comfortable for you – you need to pitch it at a level that’s not going to send your anxiety into overdrive, while simultaneously not being so vague as to not be meaningful at all. I prefer to put each concern into a related category (family, physical environment, my mental health, professional engagement etc). Three things I also include (this is where the overanalytical comes in) are likelihood that it will happen, impact if it happens, and what I can do to reduce either of those things. Optional extras include what the impact of those ‘what I can do’ things would be on my energy levels, budget and other limited resources. Like I said, overanalytical.

Must be said this wouldn’t be the ony list I would write. And lists can be a useful way to get a handle on things. (Oops, me, getting distracted again)

Express the Emotions

Feelings do not have an inherent moral value. They just are. (What you do with, and about them is a different matter.) Feeling bad about feeling things is less than helpful and a very quick way to spiral into places better left unseen.

Of course, sometimes we can’t help ourselves. But we can be intentional about finding ways to express the feelings. The expression needs to reflect both the nature and the intensity of the feeling, your own personality and the environment you find yourself in. (Don’t go swimming in the river when you’re angry if it has hippos in it.)

I tend to choose creative or physical activities because I’m a restless, creative person. So stomping on long dog walks (they normally become less stompy as I progress), writing, needle felting (an ongoing project of “stabby hope”), or cooking (especially when this involves chopping vegetables). When there isn’t enough space or time, I do smaller things like colouring in or crochet or drinking herbal tea. The Dude plays computer games or listens to podcasts. LittlePerson jumps on her trampoline or plays games on her tablet.

It is not weakness to feel things, or to need to do things to process the feelings. It’s just human.

Find a Metaphor for Letting Go

Yes, like the movie.

You won’t always need this one. It’s for when you don’t have control, you can’t really do much about the what-ifs and you find yourself trapped in a chaotic hamster wheel of emotions and you just can’t get out (or so it seems).

The trick is to sort of separate the actual event from your response to the event. And what you’re trying to do is let go of certain aspects of your response – expectations of people, or opinions, or desires or whatever else might be tying you up in knots. So the metaphor will depend on your own personal associations, the nature of what it is that you’re trying to let go, and whether it feels like a one-off or a repeat thing.

Example metaphors may include surfing/riding the wave, burying treasure walking away, burning the thing (you can actually do this physically), throw it under the bus (don’t do this one physically), migration, closing a book, blowing bubbles that disappear, or whatever speaks to your heart.

Final thoughts

There are other things to do to help yourself out – lists and plans, sensory input and very teeny tiny breaks. Eating a good mix of healthy food and comfort food (if only these were the same thing). Giving yourself permission to find it hard.

There. I said it. It’s okay to find it hard. Crying is a valid response. So go and cry, and then make a list.

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