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3 Ways of Coping with Big Life Changes and Stressful Events

How I cope with big life changes and stressful events [Chris Howe] blog

Opinion by EHN Guest Writer
Written by Chris Howe, public speaker, recovered alcoholic and addict, and firefighter.

Coping with big life changes and stressful events used to mean going on week-long benders and binges with alcohol and drugs only to come out the other end even more stressed and even more unable to manage the situation. The unmanageability of active addiction creates so much chaos in our lives. For myself, when I was still drinking and using, I thought that was normal. I had never experienced a different way of living, thinking, acting, and coping. In recovery, managing stress and changes in life looks much different. Once the manageability of myself and my emotions came back, after much work, I was able to confront stressful situations and life changes head on.

Recovery Is All About Big Life Changes

Recovery is, and should be, about big life changes. After all, we need to change everything in order to feel and enjoy the freedoms of recovery. This can be very scary at first. In fact, it was downright overwhelming and terrifying when I first started. As I moved through my first year of recovery, I realized that these big life changes were all positive and even the hard ones to push through became pivotal points in my journey. Granted, not every single life change in recovery is going to be positive. 

Once we get past the big work, our new lives begin and we learn how to navigate and deal with the problems and situations that used to baffle us. For myself, learning to cope with life on life’s terms was a big step. I learned that facing challenges head-on and not trying to avoid or ignore them is key. The bigger the life change, the more I can learn. When I deal with these situations with a clear mind and an open heart, I find that I can manage them much better. 

Everyone Has Experienced Big Life Changes Recently

Recent changes to everyone’s way of life have caused, and are still causing, many challenges and stressful events for all of us. Some results include people working less, not having the ability to physically be with the ones whom we love, and uncertainty regarding what life will look like in the future. 

These are massive changes and concerns that can cause a lot of stress. For myself, I have taken this opportunity to connect with my fiance and her six-year-old son on a new level. We are together 24/7 and we are all learning things about each other, some positive and others less positive. However, I’m looking at this time as a gift for which to be grateful, rather than as a negative stressor. This may be the only chance where we get to spend months at a time this close together—and we have gained a lot of knowledge and respect for each other in the process. Truly, with a positive attitude, this is a gift!

Maintaining a positive perspective on stressful events can be a tough one. It’s quite natural for our brains to jump to conclusions and imagine worst-case scenarios. Having a positive mental attitude, being grateful and vocal about these things can change all of that. If I’m feeling stressed out, I talk about it. It’s crucial for me to have people in my life whom I trust and with whom I can be completely open and honest. I don’t worry about judgement or fear that I may be giving too much information to somebody because if I hold back, it’s only going to hurt me. So, being authentic with myself and another person has really helped me change my perspective on potentially life-altering situations.

The following are three activities that I’ve found especially helpful for helping me cope with big life changes and stressful events.

(1) Box Breathing 

I do this before making any big decisions or taking a big action. I think of the four sides of a box or actually find a picture or mirror on the wall. 

(i) I follow the top edge of the box as I inhale for five seconds. 

(ii) I follow the first side edge of the box down as I hold my breath for five seconds. 

(iii) I follow the bottom edge of the box as I exhale for five seconds. 

(iv) I follow the second edge of the box as I hold my breath again for five seconds, which brings me back to where I started.

(v) I repeat this cycle for several minutes.

This technique helps center me and calms down my thinking and nervous system, allowing me to make more sound decisions regarding how to move forward.

(2) Putting Pen to Paper

I find writing extremely helpful and beneficial for breaking down my thoughts, feelings, and emotions towards a specific situation or life change. When I do this, I find great clarity. If I’m honest about what I’m writing down, I can take a look at it or share it with another person to gain perspective. There is something very therapeutic about writing this stuff down in the moment and it is a great learning tool to go over afterwards. It usually shows me that my emotions got out of control or that I was preemptively thinking out of fear or uncertainty. It usually shows me that my mind often assumes the worst-case scenario rather than the positive possibilities and outcomes. Writing is something I always learn a lot from.

(3) Sharing Experiences and Emotions 

Having people in my life on whom I can rely to always give me unbiased and truthful perspectives on life’s ups and downs has proved to be most valuable. When I share something with another person, I have the opportunity to learn and grow with a trusted friend rather than spin out of control in my own mind. Regardless of whether or not I actually move forward with the perspective or advice that I get, I always learn and explore possibilities. I know I can count on an honest opinion—and sometimes the opinion that I may not necessarily want to hear but may need to hear. I also appreciate another person sharing their own experiences in similar situations. At the end of the day, communication is a huge key in dealing with stress or change so I always take advantage of it!

Maintain a Positive Perspective by Being Real With Yourself and Others

Try to maintain a realistic perspective, be honest with yourself, and communicate authentically with others regarding stressful events and life changes. This will create the space and attitude necessary to move forward in a positive direction. I try my best to never let fear or ego drive my reactions in recovery and this has served me well thus far. I try my best to keep a positive and grateful mindset and, even if the situation looks grim, push through it doing the next right thing. As long as I am keeping my side of the street tidy, I can move forward confidently.

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