How to Handle Major Change

The old adage, “the only constant in life is change,” may be trite but it’s true. One of the greatest gifts one can receive while going through major change is the gift of perspective. Perspective isn’t just “maintain a positive attitude.” Perspective can be achieved by acknowledging what is going well in your life even while things are in upheaval. Daily gratitude has also been proven to change the chemistry of the brain for the better, and is another tool to give perspective. Perspective can also be achieved when we're in the constant pursuit of knowledge, self-education, and learning new skills. Sometimes when major change or even multiple major changes come our way, it’s tempting to think “why is this happening to me?” But I would challenge you to reframe and choose the mindset that everything is not happening for me and not to me. You might not get to choose what life throws your way but you can choose how you respond, search for a lesson to be learned, and work to make meaning from the difficult change or changes you are going through.

Image result for everything is happening for me not to me

Serving Others is Self-Serving…and That’s a Good Thing

In 2016, a study was published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine that found that giving had greater benefits than receiving (yes, The Office fans; that’s what she said). The results from participants in the study showed that giving (and not receiving) reduced stress related activities in the brain and reduced vulnerability for negative psychosocial outcomes. Put simply, the study showed that when you help others you’re also helping yourself.

Outside the context of the study and from my own research as well as through lived experience, I’ve found that helping others is a great way to boost self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. Helping others is a useful way to create connectivity, to find purpose in your life, and if you choose, to make meaning of the mundane or of something difficult or traumatic.

It almost seems counterintuitive to help someone else when you need help but even the seemingly smallest action can have a massive positive affect on the person being helped as well as on your state of mind. By getting our of your own head (temporarily) and shifting focus away from your difficulty or problem you’re facing, you’re distracting yourself from the potential of a self-inflicted negative feedback loop. You do something nice for someone and that feels good but you also gain a little perspective as well (the mountain you thought you were dealing with is actually an obnoxious mole hill).
Image result for serving others
There are lots of ways you can help people or groups of people. One overlooked method of help is to show another person compassion—for their mistakes, their slights (whether intentional or unintentional) toward you, for their uniqueness and vulnerability that might not line up with your own values or preferences. Compassion brings understanding, which then brings about connectivity (with varying degrees of elasticity, of course).

Another overlooked form of helping others is actually practicing self-love and self-care. By loving yourself, treating yourself well, and setting healthy boundaries, you’re ensuring that when you decide to begin or resume helping others you’re doing so as close to peak performance as possible.

By looking after others, you’re actually looking after your mental health and nutrition.

Self-Reflection for Mental Nutrition: Bringing Order to Disorder

“Our self-image, strongly held, essentially determines what we become.” 
- Maxwell Maltz 

Self-image and self-esteem are strongly influenced by the kind and quality of thoughts we have about ourselves and how we reflect, appraise, and evaluate ourselves.

Self-reflection leads to self-awareness, which is a key element to developing leadership (self-directed or a leader of others), maturity, and emotional intelligence.

Being able to self-reflect in a healthy and productive manner is important, but carving out time to do so is where things can get tricky. Long-held theory states that self-reflection occupies roughly 50% of our waking life. However, self-reflection can happen unintentionally and one can be unaware of how they are analyzing and assessing themselves; this is a more inefficient manner of reflection because it can often lead to poor planning and flawed decision making.

Intentional self-reflection is much more efficient because we can analyze and assess “self” with more objective thinking and more easily seek outside solutions and help for whatever refinement or improvement we feel needs to occur in our lives.

Image result for self reflection

Many avoid and forgo self-reflection though avoidance—running from “self” through any sort of excessive activity (fill in the blank with: alcohol or other substances, food, church, sex, caregiving). Why would someone not want to engage in self-reflection? Fear is likely a motivating factor—fear of what you might uncover, fear of the unknown, fear of confrontation, fear of the potential of opening old wounds, fear of taking accountability, or fear of not being “good enough.”

Taking the time to reflect on self allows you to slow down amidst the busy-ness or chaos of life. It can help you bring some order to the disorder. If you’re a go-getter or feel the need to constantly be moving, self-reflection allows you to pause and recalibrate so that your future actions are more effective and efficient. When first becoming intentional about self-reflection it can be uncomfortable, you might not know how to go about it, or what you uncover might be painful. But intentionally reflecting on self over a period of time can lead to a sense of clarity on one’s direction in life as well as inner peace.

Some important questions to ask yourself when engaging in self-reflection:
  • What can I improve upon in my life, by even a small percentage?
  • What am I avoiding?
  • How can I be more effective in my relationships?
  • How can I love or care for myself (at all or even more than now)?
  • What am I grateful for?
  • Am I viewing my current circumstances with a healthy perspective?
  • What do I need help with currently and what is keeping me from asking for help?
What kinds of self-reflection activities exist? Here is a short list:
  • Morning pages
  • Constructive feedback
  • Creating a personal manifesto
  • Vision board
  • Counseling therapy
  • Monitoring your inner dialogue
  • Personality tests
How do you practice self-reflection? And do you take part in any self-reflection activities not listed here?

How Social Support Nourishes the Brain and Helps You Live Longer

“I’ll just take care of it myself.” 

“I’ll figure out how to get through it on my own.” 

“I’m ashamed, I’ll keep it to myself.” 

“If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” 

“I’ll just pick myself up by the bootstraps.” 

“No one will understand, so I won’t say anything about it.” 

“No one else is talking about it, why should I?” 

These are some phrases I hear a lot of, and for a good portion of my life I let this “lone wolf” mindset dictate my actions. However, as I gain more life experience and get longer in the tooth (you’re old if you know “long in the tooth” is a reference to getting old), I’ve come to realize that the lone-wolf mindset is a way to get nowhere fast. I, and all of us, need social support.

Even if I can do something well on my own, I’ll need some amount of help with it. There is no such thing as a self-made man or woman; human beings are meant to work as a collective (of varying degrees).

Image result for social support"

Social support is tremendously important and provides much-needed nourishment, contributing to a healthy or healthier brain.

Studies have shown that without social support or with minimal social support, there is an increased risk of depression, alcohol use, suicide ideation and attempts, cardiovascular disease, and diminished brain function.

Social support can improve motivation and can help in rational and healthy decision making. We typically think of peer pressure as a bad thing and something to be avoided. But peers and social groups can influence you in a more positive way and help you engage in healthier behaviors. You want to quit an unhealthy habit? It’s much easier when you have the support of the people around you. You want to improve a skill or personal attribute? Spend more time with someone whose skill you can learn from or someone whom you admire for the attribute you want to improve upon. You are the company you keep.
Finding support is crucial but the support you provide to others is not to be overlooked either.

Helping others provides a sense of meaning. In one sociological study, Americans who described themselves as “very happy” volunteered at least 5.8 hours per month. Another study showed that seniors who volunteered 200 hours per year decreased their risk for hypertension by 40 percent. You can help people in a variety of ways and for many different reasons. Help a kid tie their shoe, you can provide meals to the homeless, or work as an elected public servant. You can offer support for love, to build your skillset and expertise, or with the expectation of some reciprocal action.

Take time to check in with your support system on a regular basis, giving and taking without keeping score.