Michael has taught college-level mathematics and sociology; high school math, history, science, and speech/drama; and has a doctorate in education.
What is Meant by Coping with Changes in a Family?
Andy is ready to be out on his own. He has trained for this. He's got his mechanic certification, and he's excited about having his own place. Then Andy's dad has a stroke, and can't work. Andy's mom doesn't know what to do. Both are looking to Andy for help, and he realizes that his dreams will have to wait.
Coping means dealing with something difficult in a way that works for you. When things change in a family situation, more than one person will be affected, and they all have to deal with the new situation as effectively as they can. Coping with changes in a family refers to a group of people, trying to deal with something they did not necessarily expect and which may represent difficulty for them.
Why is Change Difficult?
Human beings tend to be creatures of habit and rhythm. Sometimes they like change, but often changes mean that their worlds are being shaken, and that causes stress. The unexpected, the unplanned for, and the difficult can place an extreme demand on our personal strength and resources. People get hurt, relationships shatter, jobs change or disappear, and sometimes we find ourselves so shaken that we don't know how to handle it.
Strategies for Coping with Changes in a Family
So how can you cope with change? Here are some strategies that can make all the difference when you're going through troubling circumstances:
- Reconnect. Chances are, there are many more people involved with you and your coping than you think. This is a good time to get in touch. Let people help. For example, Lily was a college girl who found out that her father had died. Lily began to just shut down. She stopped attending classes. She didn't eat. Things went from bad to worse. At the same time, there were many family members and friends who were wondering about Lily, but who never had the chance to help. When you find that life is too much, bring in support.
- Check the way you think about change. Just like adding weight for muscle-building or running another mile to build up your stamina, dealing with the stresses caused by change makes you stronger. You become better at adapting by adapting. For example, John saw his marriage crumbling, and he didn't know what to do. Some time later, when he had survived the experience, he found that he was stronger, that new situations didn't shake him as much.
- Remember your faith. Nearly everyone believes in something, and this is the time to remember that. You have roots, foundations that form a basis for who you are. Return to those, because they are where life has meaning. Your church, synagogue, temple, or meditation corner can be a source of strength during these times.
- Realize that stress is stressful. Change makes demands on you. Just as you have to brace yourself when you're walking around in a strong wind, you need to understand and allow for the toll that the situation is costing you. Eat well, get plenty of rest and exercise, and limit the stresses, where you can. This means avoiding extra responsibilities, allowing some things to slide when necessary, and making allowance for the fact that you have fewer resources available. While you're at it, make sure the rest of the family are taking care of themselves, too.
- Stay flexible. Change means you may have to do things differently. Allow the wind to shift around you, knowing that you have the strength to deal with it. Also, realize that every change brings its own kind of opportunities. Look for the new chances buried in the scary part of change. The loss of a job is often the opportunity for a change to a better direction. An illness is sometimes a warning about a destructive habit. Look for the silver lining behind the cloud.
- Live in the moment. One of the strongest ways of dealing with overwhelming change is to focus on what is in front of you. Deal with your needs and those of your family. Deal with your feelings. Look at what is going on around you and address it directly. Sometimes it helps to just stop, get your breath, and focus on the simplicities of life, such as breathing, eating, walking, reading, or watering the garden.
- Be grateful. No matter what the change, there is much around you that is wonderful. Find the things you have to be grateful for, and give them the attention they deserve. If there's a family difficulty, then that means you have a family. Think about what is wonderful about having a family. Enjoy the fact that you have food and shelter. A comfortable bed. Whatever it is that you have, find a way to be grateful.
- Don't stress over what you can't change. If there's nothing you can do about something that has happened to you, let it go. Shift your focus to the things you control. For example, an illness, death in the family, or change in the economy can throw your whole life into turmoil, but the fact is that you can't change those things, so it doesn't help to stress over them. Think instead of the things you can do.
Coping means dealing effectively with something difficult, and coping with family changes can be a significant challenge. Change causes stress, and people can sometimes feel overwhelmed by that stress. Ways to cope with family changes include reconnecting with others, checking your attitude about change, remembering what you believe and what matters to you, realizing the cost of stress, staying flexible, focusing on the present, being grateful for what you have, and shifting your attention away from what you can't change.
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