Change. Some people thrive with change. They love the excitement of something new and different. A whole new world of possibility. Others of my personality type, prefer life to be predictable and constant. Don’t ruffle our feathers. We are comfortable where we are. We cringe at the thought of change, especially when it is unexpected, because it means uncertainty and a lack of control. Unfortunately for the latter group (myself included), life’s only constant is change.
Change does not discriminate, and at times, happens when we least expect it . A friend I know has to give up his job and move cities to look after his aging parents. Another friend has to face the grief of a stillborn baby. A third friend is battling cancer. A fourth friend has to face foreclosure of his business due to economic crisis. At other times, change may be planned and it could even be a positive change, e.g. expecting a child, changing careers, moving overseas to further one’s education, moving to a new country. However, even if the change is a positive one, there will still be a feeling of unsettledness and uncertainty. For some, change also involves a time of grief.
Motherhood came as a bit of a shock to my system in spite of all our planning. After being married for three years, we were ready to have children and were looking forward to our daughter’s arrival. However, five months later, I found myself staring down the dark tunnel of Post-Natal Depression (PND), thanks to hormones wreaking havoc in my body. I had insomnia and found myself anxious all the time. I was eager to get back to work, but baby had other plans and absolutely refused the bottle. Becoming a stay-at-home mom was a huge change for me as I always saw myself as a career woman. I felt resentful and envious of my husband who was able to carry on with life as per normal, while I was “stuck” at home caring for our child. It was a very difficult time which took several months of recovery, but in the end, I came out of it more self-aware and grateful for the help that was offered by others in my time of need.
Fast forward nine years later, and we have moved from New Zealand to Thailand to Malaysia. We left New Zealand (ah, comfortable, beautiful and safe New Zealand!) to set up social enterprises in Thailand. Just when I thought I was settled in Thailand and making friends, it was time to up and return to Malaysia, my childhood home . I left Malaysia as a child, and have returned as an adult with my own family. Adjusting to parental expectations, finding our place and a community of friends were changes we had to deal with in our first year returning back to Malaysia.
We don’t have to like change, but we can ride with it. We can either go under with the waves, or learn to surf.
So, how does one cope with changes in life, especially when you dread change, like me?
BE SELF AWARE
Each of us is unique and we cope differently with stress. For my husband, he needs to have some form of high intensity physical activity to de-stress. For a friend I know, taking time out of her busy schedule to sketch helps her unwind. For me, lack of sleep is a huge trigger as I find myself cranky and unable to keep my emotions intact. There is no quick fix to this as a mother to young children. However, I make up for lack of sleep with naps during the day and a sleep-in once a week. It is amazing how much difference sufficient rest does to lift up one’s mood.
It is important to discover what refreshes you and rejuvenates you, and make time for it. At the same time, be flexible and discover new ways to cope with stress, as your circumstances may change.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
I remember the painful recovery days from PND, when I felt utterly useless and unproductive. There were days when I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and stay in bed all day. I remember my counsellor telling me that all I needed to do was focus on accomplishing one thing a day, even if it was as small as getting myself out of bed and dressed. Thus began the journey of recovery, focusing on just completing one task each day, instead of fretting about a whole long list of things that I wasn’t able to get done. I was amazed by the sense of accomplishment that came when I readjusted my expectations.
Changes in life takes a lot out of a person. It affects us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. We need to be kind to ourselves during times like these, and acknowledge that it is only a season. A useful phrase I have learned over the years is: “And this too shall pass”.
When I was struggling with the change of resettling back in Malaysia over a year ago, a wise friend suggested that I write down 3 things every day that I could be thankful for. As I focused on being thankful and count my blessings, my perspective began to shift, and I was no longer consumed by what was wrong about my situation, but on what was right and good.
The Bible tells us that as we come to God with a thankful heart, we will experience peace in a way we have never known before – a peace that can only come from Him (Philippians 4:6-7).
BE OPEN TO RECEIVE HELP
In our urban society, it’s easy to hide how we are struggling sometimes. Everyone seems too busy to help, and we don’t want to be a bother to our family and friends. Admitting to one’s feeling of weakness seems taboo in our Asian culture.
Nevertheless, we are not called to do life on our own. If you really are struggling, do reach out for help from a safe person. This could be a family member, friend, church pastor, professional counsellor or a medical personnel. Sometimes, just talking through the changes we are going through and our struggles with it helps keep things in perspective. Other times, we may need more than just talk, and we need to be open for medical intervention.
Of course, let us remember too that God is our present help in times of need and trouble (Psalm 46: 1-3). We can draw strength and courage from our Creator, who loves us and cares for us in every season and change in our lives.
How we cope with change boils down to our attitude. As mentioned earlier, we can either fight change or embrace it; we can either be dragged down under the waves or learn to surf. Be self aware. Be kind to yourself. Be thankful. Be open to receive help. These provide stepping stones for us to ride the waves of change in life. In the words of Chuck Swindoll: “We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only one thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude”.
About the Author: Jess Chan is married with two young daughters. Aside from being full-time “minister of home affairs” and “transport minister” to her little family, she also serves as the Field Administrator for World Outreach International, a Christian mission organisation that has a presence in 70 countries. Jess and her family moved back to Malaysia in 2017, after spending 10 years in New Zealand and 6 years in Thailand.