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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Overwhelmed? 3 Tips for Surviving Change and Staying Healthy

Each moment of my life is new, fresh and vital
 Susan J Meyerott artist

'Our actions shift perspectives, whether it be your own or others.' John Edwards

Stop the World I Want to Get Off! 

Recently my life has felt overwhelming due to too many life events and changes. In just the past month I've been touched by the loss of a loved one; major illness, surgery and hospitalizations for friends and family; layoffs for family and friends; and changes at the workplace for me. 

Like you, when I deal with too many changes at once, the ensuing anxiety and emotional fog tends to kick common sense and a clear vision for what I need to do to regain my balance and energy right out of my consciousness. 

Despite being a Health Promotion Professional skilled in helping others move through stressful times, when I'm faced with times of rapid change I, too, must stop to recall what I know about keeping myself healthy during these highly stressful times. 

It's taken me a month to see my way through the fog--but here it is: Three (oh-so-obvious-in hindsight) actions that are helping me regain my balance and putting me back on the road to health. 

I breathe in 'uplifting' into my heart
I breathe out "calmness' into my gut
Grant Soosalu
Susan J Meyerott, artist

Action #1: Calm Yourself through Conscious Breathing 

'Just Breathe'--I know it sounds hokey...yet it is the very first step to pulling yourself out of the anxiety and stress. 

When our heart rate gets above 100 beats/minute in a non-exercise state our brain gets fuzzy. That is the emotional fog we experience due to our body's response to the stress.

Granted, when you're in a highly stressed state it can be amazingly difficult to begin conscious breathing. Sometimes you just have to keep practicing it--all the while 'acting as if' you believe it will calm you down. It will--just do it. 

Practice slowly and consciously breathing in and out--thinking 'I breathe in uplifting into my heart' and I breathe out calmness into my gut'.

Everything is (secretly) okay
All is well in my world
Susan J Meyerott, artist

Action #2: Name Your Stressors

As major life events piled up sending me into overwhelm mode I knew I needed to get a handle on what I was dealing with. I needed a simple way to name what was going on and the Holmes-Rahe Life Change Index was just what I needed.

The Holmes-Rahe Life Change Index is a straightforward inventory of life events that measures the number of 'life change units' for the events and includes both 'good' and 'bad' changes, with 'death of a spouse' worth 100 units and getting married worth 50 units. 

While the life change inventory does not cover all changes we might experience, it provides a good indication of the level of stress and the resultant risk for changes in our health status in the year ahead.

Like me, if you've been through significant changes this year, take a moment  to assess your score on the Life Change Index.

How to Use the Homes-Rahe Life Change Index 

Using the index below, identify changes you've experienced in the last year and add up the total life change units to see what risk category you're in for experiencing health problems in the next year.

Holmes-Rahe Life Change Index 

Life event
Life change units
Death of a spouse
Marital separation
Death of a close family member
Personal injury or illness
Dismissal from work
Marital reconciliation
Change in health of family member
Sexual difficulties
Gain a new family member
Business readjustment
Change in financial state
Death of a close friend
Change to different line of work
Change in frequency of arguments
Major mortgage
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
Change in responsibilities at work
Child leaving home
Trouble with in-laws
Outstanding personal achievement
Spouse starts or stops work
Beginning or end school
Change in living conditions
Revision of personal habits
Trouble with boss
Change in working hours or conditions
Change in residence
Change in schools
Change in recreation
Change in church activities
Change in social activities
Minor mortgage or loan
Change in sleeping habits
Change in number of family reunions
Change in eating habits
Minor violation of law

Holmes-Rahe Life Change Index and Your Health
Score of 300+: At risk of illness. 80% chance of illness.
Score of 150-299: Risk of illness is moderate. 50% chance of illness.
Score <150: Only have a slight risk of illness.

What Do the 20% Do Differently? 

What category of risk are you in for developing health issues in the next year? What's your score?

Me? I scored well over 300 life change units putting me in the category associated with an 80% chance of getting sick with a major illness in the next year. 

So does that mean those of us who score over 300 are destined to get sick with a major illness in the next year? Or if you scored 150-299 that you are part of the 50% who will get sick?

No! What it means is we must pay attention to what we do in the next year if we want to be part of the other 20% or 50% who stay healthy despite the onslaught of changes.

While 80% of the people in high risk group got a major illness in the next year--what about the 20% who didn't? What did the 20% do differently that helped them avoid getting sick in response to too much change? 

A Cheerful Heart is Good Medicine

Action #3: Let Go of Things that Don't Matter to You; Take Charge of Things that Do 

The problem with experiencing too many changes at once is it makes us feel like everything is spinning out-of-control. 

This out-of-control feeling can lead us to two ineffective extremes--giving in to a feeling of helplessness in which we're powerless to affect change; or taking on a hyper-vigilant stance in which we frantically attempt to maintain control over every aspect of life. 

Both extremes--a sense of under-control or over-control--are associated with poor health.

Good health--despite high stress and high change--is associated with having an optimal sense of control over your life. What does this mean?

People who stay healthy despite experiencing a lack of control in their lives share one perspective in common: They feel they have control over the things that matter to them. They don't try to control things beyond their control (i.e. death) and they don't try to control things that don't matter to them (they choose their battles). 

As John Edwards says "Our actions shift perspectives, whether it be your own or others." Take the actions that will shift your perspective and put your life back in balance after everything seemingly falls apart.

When Life throws you too many changes:

1. Acknowledge the Changes.
2. Sit quietly, release judgment and lower expectations.
3. When in doubt, do nothing.
4. Avoid making major life changes for the next year.
5. Find a way to feel like you have control over the things that matter to you. Focus on what matters most to you, and take action on the things that matter.

I speak and act with a calm, bright heart
Susan J Meyerott, artist

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For more than 30 years, Susan Meyerott has been helping people lighten up and step over invisible barriers to change one step at a time. She speaks to your heart, puts you at ease, and makes changing easier than ever before.

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Sally Rosenthal said...

I think you pegged it. Staying healthy is all about awareness and knowing what you need to do for yourself to stay balanced. If we give everything equal weight then overwhelm is just around the corner. By understanding our priorities and living into them we can make good decisions for ourselves and everyone around us.

Thanks for this blog and for putting yourself out to the world. You do make a difference....

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

Keep living into your priorities, Sal. You make a difference every day.

Jean | Delightful Repast said...

Susan, so sorry you've had these difficulties, but so glad you have the tools to deal with them. This is a post I'm going to be coming back to every so often. Staying healthy requires us to be vigilant (just not hyper-vigilant!).

Susan J Meyerott, M.S. said...

You nailed it, Jean. Vigilant, not hyper-vigilant is the key! Letting go is a big part of regaining our balance.