Caring for yourself in transition

Donita RobardsTransitions—All Things Made New

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As I look around at my friends, family, coworkers, and patients, I see that everyone faces times of transition. We will all experience monumental changes in our lives. Change is inevitable. No matter how much we prepare for them, some changes can undermine the very foundations of our well-being. They can affect our self-esteem, our security, and even our faith.

The key to surviving a transitional experience in a healthy way is learning how to live well in the face of a life-changing occurrence. Living well encompasses several aspects of life: mental, physical, and spiritual. Humans are holistic people. Neglect in one area will negatively affect every other area of life. Poor health habits lead to increased risk of such chronic diseases as gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease, or cancer, which affect mental health (anxiety, depression) and spiritual well-being (inner peace, belief in God’s love or protection). It helps to chart out a course of action to weather the seas of change.

Change is often accompanied by anxiety and stress. It is scary to think about the unknown, even when change has been invited into your life. A mindful attitude of thankfulness and gratitude can be the prescription to fight anxiety, worry, and depression. Expressing gratitude is a leverage to catapult you out of the choke-hold of grief and despair. You cannot be grateful and worried at the same time.

Practicing gratitude in the midst of a life transition requires commitment and perseverance. There’s nothing easy about being mindful of blessings when you’re going through a divorce, or dealing with the loss of a loved one. An attitude of thankfulness is more than simply “counting your blessings.” It is a conscious choice to set your mind deliberately on the positive attributes of your life, refusing to leave room in your thoughts to ruminate on the negative (Phil. 4:8).

Caring for your health is critical when you’re going through any life transition. Healthy habits get neglected during chaotic times. Sleep habits become erratic, meals get missed, and annual doctor office visits seem unimportant in the scheme of things. Getting through stressful times requires energy, concentration, and focus. The body has requirements in order to be able to function at its maximum potential. How much can you get done when you’re tired, cranky, and hungry? How well do you cope with stressful situations when you’re dragging your body around because you stayed up too late or skipped lunch? Usually not very well.

Making a wise decision regarding your health is not always the most desired choice. It can be a sacrifice to go to bed early instead of staying out late with friends, or denying yourself that lavish dessert that seems to be calling your name. Relinquishing your inclinations towards what seems fun has its health benefits, but the most important one is spiritual in nature (Rom.12:1). When you feel good and are not weighed down with the baggage of ill health, it is easier to trust in God’s love.

A solid spiritual foundation provides the groundwork on which to build all other areas of your life. Taking the time to strengthen your spiritual core is vital. Spending time alone with God gives you inner peace and strength to bear whatever comes your way. Even Jesus had to leave the crowds and go to a quiet place to pray (Matt. 14:23, Mark 1:35). Praying helps you discern the truth about your circumstances and to realize that you are not alone. When your life is evolving in a new direction, you need to know that God is a rock, and a firm foundation that never changes (Heb. 13:8). These sacred moments yield an abundance of hope.

A healthy individual has a good dose of self-love. Self-love is frequently thought to be based in pride or selfishness, but I believe the Bible teaches something different. Jesus said, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22: 37–39 NRSV). Therefore, isn’t it expected that you would care about yourself? I am not talking about arrogance. Self-love is learning to accept yourself as a unique individual, faults and all. Once you learn how to love yourself, you can love and minister to others who find themselves in similar situations.

Any life change is bound to be wrought with mixed emotions. Even celebratory events can elicit feelings of nostalgia for the past. Denying your feelings undermines the healing process; it exacerbates a guilty conscience, causing such disorders as anxiety and depression. Expressing your grief to an empathetic ear encourages healing when you feel understood, accepted, and loved. Grief must be removed in order to heal the soul.

It is important to note that an outward expression of suffering is not necessarily about yelling, swearing, or physical outbursts (Eph. 4:29). Have you ever seen an angry person calm down after a rampage? Being able to state clearly to a trusted confidante, “I am angry,” or “I feel abandoned by God” are heartfelt emotions that can only be dealt with once they are revealed. A loving friend will be able to help you view your circumstances with a new perspective.

Change will come. Being prepared for it can help you thwart the threat of calamity by knowing how you will respond. How you manage change will determine the outcome of your life and your faith. There are countless ways to deal with transition; it is my prayer that you will shield yourself from the arrows of adversity by seeking healthy ways to care for yourself and find peace in the process.

Donita Robards, a registered nurse, is the parish nurse for Hope Church in Holland, MI. She has worked in many areas of nursing including medical/surgical, psychiatric, and home care. She currently convenes a caregiver support group and has given presentations on caregiving and dementia.