You can choose your reaction to change
By Lorna Foreman | July/August 2019
Change. It is always happening whether it be the world situation, our own country’s politics, neighbourhoods, our life. I could go on, but I am sure you will agree it is always happening.
I never took much notice of change when I was young. I took it in my stride. Now I feel the world is speeding up far too quickly and so we feel those changes more and can be overwhelmed by them. Is it because I am getting older that I am noticing the changes more? Are we, as seniors, more set in our ways and therefore more resistant to change?
Years ago, I would leap at any opportunity for change. Working freelance in the film industry was absolutely perfect for me. I could have a job for four months, two weeks, even one day. It was always changing. I loved it.
Now I prefer things to be more constant. I am positive I am not alone in this attitude of wishing for more consistency in daily life.
As I am writing this column, my personal life is in a state of change — not all of which is positive. I am feeling quite overwhelmed by what is happening and apart from shutting my front door, getting into my car and driving off into the sunset with no plans on returning or even letting anyone know where I am, I needed to find a way to cope with the changes.
One important thing I do is that I only listen to the news once a day, because the world is in a sad state and hearing it throughout the day, would really only serve to depress me. Constant bombardment of negativity can really ruin a woman’s day. I tune in at eight in the morning to make sure the world is still here — then it is music only, until the time I wish for silence.
I pondered why change is more difficult to deal with. My feeling is that we have lost our real sense of community. Sharing difficult things with friends or intimate groups, lessens the disturbing aspects of some changes. It may not eliminate them but sharing seems a way to vent.
Not all change is negative, of course. Some big life changes are positive; having a baby, getting a better job, getting married. It still can be stressful, but you know that once you adjust, the stress part will diminish if not go away entirely.
Some suggestions are to eat healthily rather than grabbing some unnecessary carbohydrates. Is that why donut shops do so well? Nothing feels so good when you feel anxious as a lovely chocolate glazed donut —that is my choice. It might be tempting to sit down and have a couple glasses of wine or whatever alcoholic beverage you like, but it really doesn’t help.
The hardest one for me is to get out and exercise. Feeling inundated by negative change tends to make me want to hibernate. Getting to the gym this past winter was a tough one and it was difficult getting out to walk, as the sidewalks and roads were far too icy.
One good piece of advice was to stay away from social media. I do not use Facebook and do not have a phone that allows texting, so I can control that. I admit and without shame, that unless I can deal with whoever is calling me I will, at times, not answer.
Underneath all the good advice, I realize that the most important defence against succumbing is to realize that you may not be able to prevent the change, but you can choose your reaction to it. That to me, is at the top of my list.
Change is part of the fabric of our lives. Consider the seasons. We cannot do much to stop those changes although ‘climate change’ seems to be adding a few extra kinks to that topic.
I had to consider why I did not like some of the changes that were happening to me. Some were dealing with other people’s illnesses and imminent death. I could not make them better and I had to accept that these are a part of a life and the older we get the more we will be hearing about friends dying or being ill.
One good way to work with negative changes —or even positive changes, is to keep to your regular routines. They can provide an anchor. Routines such as walking your dog at a specific time, even playing with my cat at the usual times, going to the gym on the same regular time schedule and even meeting friends for coffee or a meal on a regular basis eliminates some of the uncertainty.
And most important — and I have it written above my computer — is that “This Too Will Pass” for yes it does — which is very reassuring. We have many moments of celebrating throughout the year. Some are general like Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas, but some are personal such as birthdays. No matter what you celebrate, they are moments where we put things aside and possibly get together with other people to acknowledge an important event. While I know some traditions of other cultures, it is impossible to really understand them, as I was brought up in a different culture. I can only write from my perspective.
What do you celebrate? Do you celebrate? What purposes do they achieve? I love acknowledging my birthdays despite the number growing larger every year. For me, it is a realization that “wow, I’ve made is this far” — an appreciation that I am indeed fortunate to still be able to celebrate.
A friend commented that celebrations are great, as long as you are in the mood, because nothing is lonelier than spending Christmas Day alone if you don’t have family or a place to go. It is a known fact that foreign students have a difficult time over holidays. I used to invite two for Christmas dinner, since I lived near the University of Toronto. I was happy to see how delighted they were, and I learned something of their culture.
Friends of mine love celebrating, whether it is celebrating the end of the work week, finishing all of the housework, getting a new job, a raise, or accomplishing something meaningful in their lives.
I have had a few dogs in my life and any dog owner knows that one of the best reasons to have a dog is their demonstration of joy when you come home. It doesn’t matter whether you have been gone for ten minutes or a couple of days, they are overjoyed to see you. One dog I had was so excited when I got home from school, he piddled on the floor even though he was house trained. Not that I would suggest anyone celebrate in that particular fashion, as it could be rather embarrassing.
Celebrate — we all do it even if we are totally unaware of it as such. The sale of my first painting; getting high marks when going to Art School at the age of forty (actually, even being accepted was a reason to celebrate). My ways are simple — I pick up my cat and dance around the room. My cat isn’t too sure why, mind you.
Cultural celebrations vary, but they usually have a commonality to them. Welcoming the day, reaping a good crop — all perfect reasons to dance and make merry. Even saying grace before a meal is a way to give thanks for the food about to be served. I am sure if you study other cultures, you would see similarities.
My business partner and I give workshops on “Making Personal Changes”. We advise making a list of the small steps to follow to achieve your goal. Each step, once done, deserves a mini celebration. It is a way to recognize that you’ve succeeded and provides incentive to go to the next step. It is a form of gratitude. We often judge ourselves harshly and that creates negative thoughts. By acknowledging what we have achieved, we show respect for ourselves.
Our society has common moments of observances: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas to name a few. They don’t have to be done with other people, but when you include others, they have an accelerated feeling of joy. Canada Day on Parliament Hill in Ottawa is one example. It is hard not to feel the tangible energy from the crowds.
Animals celebrate meeting each other: wolves howl and display playful behaviour as do elephants and chimpanzees. Perhaps celebration might not be the correct word, but they certainly show signs of experiencing pleasure. Have you ever been privileged to hear a wolf pack announce a kill? The howling is awesome.
I have read that celebrating positive events with others produces more happiness than if you did it on your own. Think of Carnival time in Rio, the Mardi Gras in New Orleans — even the Olympics — the essence of them is an homage to physical achievement.
Until I started researching to write this column, I had not realized how much of my life I have little rituals for. I am at the age, that when I wake up, I do a little ceremony that acknowledges that I am alive and grateful to be well. I don’t telephone all my friends to tell them, but I give myself a treat — my first cup of coffee.
I am now much more conscious of how many things are worthy of such gratitude. While cultures celebrate good crops, equinoxes and solstices, we pay attention to life steps; births, reaching adulthood, marriage and even death. All are reasons to celebrate.
Lorna Foreman is a self-described 50-plus writer, author and artist who lives in Cornwall.