What are some effective ways to process the emotions around big life changes?
December 21, 2012 9:20 PM   Subscribe

What techniques do you use to process big changes in your life? I'm interested in specific tips to deal with change once you've accepted it and made it.

I've recently (in the last month!)undergone a lot of change (a mix of happy/sad & chosen/been chosen for me) to my career, location and relationship status. I can *intellectually* see the benefits and am taking the concrete steps to move forward, but my emotions are all over the place.

I'm grieving things I thought I'd be glad to leave behind (like a much-hated job) and find exciting new things a bit, well, meh. And while the people around me are excited and supportive, I sort of feel like they expect me to just flick a switch and suddenly be comfortable with my new identity.

I know it takes time, but I want to know what to *do* with that time to use it effectively. If I were , say, anxious, I'd get right onto exercise and meditation and CBT and mindfulness. If I were tired, I'd eat healthier and try to get more sleep. So what do I do to process these changes?
posted by rockpaperdynamite to Human Relations (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe allow yourself to grieve, so it's easier to move on?

Ways of grieving that works for me:
-crying at home with tea, but always on days where I have stuff planned in the evening so I have to get out of the house eventually
-going to cafes alone while writing in your journal
-reflecting on long walks by yourself
-taking up a combat sport while visualizing your sparring partner as your enemy

Basically, go out and spend a lot of alone time grieving. I can't grieve with other people around, but that's just me. If you need grieving time, sure, give yourself 3 months, then get back into the swing of things. If you still feel need to grieve by then, then maybe you don't actually like the changes that much.
posted by Hawk V at 12:58 AM on December 22, 2012

It's hard to suggest things without knowing what you have tried that hasn't worked. I'm going through some tough changes right now and here's what I do that helps:

- Spend time with friends that doesn't involve thinking about/talking about the changes. Can you tell your friends that you're feeling a bit "meh" about the changes right now and you'd like to just spend time with them without focusing on that?

- Hobbies. If yours aren't exciting, try some new ones.

- Making sure I get out of the house. Take yourself out to dinner, alone if you have to, go for a walk, whatever it is you like doing.

- Exercise, if you don't already. That's supposed to help with negative emotions.

- Think in terms of long-term benefits, how the changes might suck now but in the future your life better will be better for XYZ reasons.
posted by Autumn at 1:40 AM on December 22, 2012

Best answer: Come back to your core.

What are the things that carry you through your daily life? For me, it's a good night's sleep. I can cope with pretty much anything as long as I've slept well. When change is going on, I make sure I get enough sleep. If I don't, I don't have the resources to adapt to new stimuli.

It takes time to bond to new things. By "bonding" I mean "form a connection to", not "fall in love with". Hate is just as much a bond as liking something is. Right now, it sounds like you're still bonded to your old job and not yet bonded to your new one. Continued exposure to a thing helps create the bond and lack of exposure removes it. Focusing on your new job more and more will help accelerate the process of bonding to it and help it take up more room in your brain, weakening the bond to your old job.

Also, try listing ways that the new things in your life are going to be good for you. Things like "I'm going to be more challenged in my new job and it's going to be more rewarding" will help cement the bond into place. Try to focus on the ways this new situation will benefit you.
posted by Solomon at 4:19 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is the approach that I use when I usually need to say goodbye to someone (but it could be used for a job, too, if needed), but I can't figure out how to process all the emotions and/or what to do next. Talking with others doesn't really help me, so this is something that you can try.

Write letters (not to be sent, but for you to reflect on).

First, write to the thing that you are leaving (the job). Were there things that you wanted to say but couldn't say? It may start grar grar/angry, but it may also include the things that you will miss and enjoyed. When I write these letters, they also include steps or things that I identified/learned so that I will not get into that situation again the future. You can write this letter, leave it, and come back to it.

After that letter is done, you write a letter to yourself about the whole situation. You are sympathetic to yourself. You promise yourself not to allow yourself to be treated a certain way again, etc.

Anywho, at least for me, when I've used this technique, it helps me process emotions and come up with an action plan/action list. I highlight the final emotion and list of things that I will do/plan to do and revisit the letters as many time as needed.

Also, if you left a bad work place, but there are/were still positive things there (i.e. friends), you can keep those things in your life, right? It may help you realize this. You have eliminated the toxic components, but you can still keep the positive things with you.

...find exciting new things a bit, well, meh....

Not quite sure if this will help, but it was also used when dealing with letting go of a person, but again, I think that the next step can be modified for a workplace.

So for a person, deep down, you do miss the person even if it was unhealthy and eventually a bad situation. Yet, everything makes you think of the person and things that you enjoy become blah or sad. Unfortunately those things (for me) are a trigger to remember the person and then the part that misses them.

So I would usually make a list out of this. What were things that the other person would never do or found boring or teased you about,etc., but you wanted to do. All those things go on a list. Pick the things that sound fun and exciting and vow to do them one by one, so you will establish new memories with the other things around you.

So, maybe the old workplace was a sales job, but they would never ever let you write things or make widgets....but the new job is a widget factory.

Dream about widgets. Make a list of things you love about widgets, want to know about widgets, and a list of actionable items if possible (widget conference, design widget). Some of these things should be things that you can accomplish or do at the new work place. So you will have a list of things to do and bond at the new workplace. You will also slowly establish new neuronal connections free of the other place .... what was the name of that other place? It will fade away as those neuronal connections are lost, the proteins are recycled, etc.
Rebuild yourself.
posted by Wolfster at 6:02 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

It takes time to process emotions. I find journaling helpful, you could use 750words.com if you need a little help reminding yourself to do so.

Also, maybe you just need to retreat for a while, that's fine- why not let yourself do that? Read a lot of pleasurable fiction or watch guilty pleasure movies that you know are crappy but kinda like anyway. Just for a little bit, it's ok.

Immerse yourself in whatever comforts you, and as Solomon says come back to your core.
posted by abirdinthehand at 6:03 AM on December 22, 2012

Well, my technique is to jump in with both feet and start swimming vigorously. (I'm not sure if that is a mixed metaphor.) I want to get more information to help me in my new life. I want to get out there and make the best new life I can. At some point it might be useful to look back at the old life and draw any useful lessons, but you need a bit of distance for that.

I would hope there are things you are sorry to lose about your last job -- otherwise you would have been silly to have stayed there any time at all. Regretting them doesn't make you a mess. You don't have to examine all your feelings about the past carefully before stowing them away in neat labelled boxes on a top shelf of your closet. I suggest you trust yourself enough to give a quick glance at mixed emotions and think "Wow, it is interesting the things that really matter to me", and then just forge ahead with sorting out the new life.
posted by Idcoytco at 8:54 AM on December 22, 2012

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