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Tackling Tough Transitions: Strategies to Find the Silver Linings

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Co-written with Lindsay Sinclair, Occupational Therapist

Throughout our lives we all experience transitions. Whether it is a new job, retirement, the loss of a relationship, change in function due to injury or illness, or a change in environment, transitions are inevitable.  Although transitions can be exciting, positive experiences, there is also a sense of anxiety and fear that is associated with the loss of the past and fear of the future. While feelings of nervousness and pessimism are common during life-change, there are strategies that can make transitions easier, helpings us recognize the silver linings in difficult situations, and transition into a brighter future.

The first important thing to realize about a transition, is that it is different than change. Change is something that happens to people in their lives, whereas a transition is the mental process that occurs as they go through that change. Put this way, change is somewhat out of our control, whereas we have the ability to control transitions through our thoughts and actions.

When it comes to controlling our thoughts about change, there are many strategies that can help turn negative rumination into positive hopes and dreams. First, it is important to accept change. When we play the “what if” game it is similar to trying to row a boat upstream (we won’t be going anywhere and it takes a lot of energy). If we can accept the change, and let the river take us where it is intending, we can enjoy the ride and get to our destination more smoothly. To accept change we can take comfort in the fact that there are elements of our lives that will stay the same, and at the end of the day, no matter what situation we are in, we are fundamentally the same person, regardless of the changes we will encounter.

One strategy to use to think more positively is to recognize when we are having negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. For example, “What could be good about this change?”, “What new opportunities has this change brought me?”, “What am I thankful for in my life?”, “How has this change been a learning and growing experience?” Although on the surface some changes may seem to be only negative, the truth is that every change does bring something positive to someone’s life.

Reflecting can be an activity that helps foster positive thoughts during a transition. Whether it is journaling, blogging, or just thinking during a long walk, it is important to process emotions and deal with change. During reflection, we can think about all the times in our life we have been through a change, note the strategies that helped us through change in the past, and remind ourselves that we have successfully been through change before.

trans2Another strategy that helps during a change is to engage in behaviours that will facilitate a positive transition. During change, take things one step at a time; set small attainable goals, and connect these to long term goals for the future. Goal setting allows us to take back control over a situation and work towards something meaningful, which can help alleviate the anxiety of change caused by lack of control.

To make transitions easier, engage in meaningful activity. When we isolate ourselves and become inactive, our physical and emotional health are affected, as we are left with too much time to ruminate. Participating in activities we enjoy can help make us feel more connected to who we truly are. For example, engaging in active exercise can boost positive feelings. Furthermore, by engaging in meaningful activities, we can connect with a new community, school, or group, which can help us integrate into a new environment.

Connecting with a social support system, or building a new social support system, is an important step in navigating transition. Finding a mentor who has been through a similar change, and seeking their advice on how they navigated change may be a helpful step to work through difficult times.

A useful quote for thinking about change is: “A ship is safe in a harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” This quote serves as a reminder that safety is not productive but is merely a resting point, and we had to get to the harbor in the first place.  So, if you are “in the harbor” get the rest you need before leaving port and venturing to another destination.

In the end, change is part of life and it helps people to grow and strengthen. Change is inevitable, and often times, uncontrollable, but transitions are not. We are in control of our own transition process, and we have the power to turn negative and suffocating experiences into a positive learning experience that enables our boat to sail onward.

If you are struggling with a change, or transition, and seem to be stuck in port, considering the services of an occupational therapist for helping you to become “unstuck” in a place that is likely not functional or productive for you.

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5 Life Lessons Learned From The Elf On The Shelf

The holidays bring a host of traditions. From the process of getting real trees to decorating fake ones, from putting up lights, buying the right gift, and who to visit when, there is no shortage of ways to be busy in December. However, the most recent tradition is the ever popular Elf On the Shelf. Starting only a few years ago, this toy and book is now ranked one of the leading children’s toys of the season.

If you have one you know the drill. If you don’t it goes like this: The Elf has been sent from the North Pole to supervise children. Every night he wanders back to Santa to report on naughty and nice behavior. When he returns in the morning he is in a different place in the house, or is engaging in suspicious, silly or reckless behavior. With this new holiday tradition comes a Social Media flurry of photos showing the Elf assuming a multitude of positions and behaviors.

So while I am personally “traditioned-out” this time of year and have yet to buy an Elf for our home, I think there are some valuable life lessons we can take from this crafty creature:

Don’t stop having fun. If buying an Elf forces you to be silly, fun, spontaneous, and goofy, go for it. We should never take ourselves too seriously.

Childhood is short, keep it exciting. If having an Elf helps kids to start each day with a smile, an adventurous love for getting out of bed to see where the Elf has landed, or to react for several mornings like they do on those special days of Christmas, Easter, or after losing a tooth, it is all good. After all, in the early years that is their one purpose in life – to be curious, interested in the world, and excited to explore new things.

It’s okay to observe. Sometimes we need to sit back, watch, listen, and take it all in. Whether we are reporting back to Santa, or just soothing the interior of our own soul, reflect, pause and just “be” sometimes.

Each day is new. Celebrate it. If we could all awake with vigor and excitement, and like the Elf use our day to engage in new and challenging situations, to think outside the box, and to gain a new perspective, life could be much more exciting. Assume a different position sometimes, look at your world upside down, take a new stance and see what happens. Maybe moving around a little and trying new things is just the perspective you need to head in a new direction or to better the path you are on.

Don’t stop being creative. Whether your Elf is fishing for Goldfish, doing icing sugar snow angels, or almost falling into the toilet bowl, creativity is a spark of life. In the book “Brainstorm” it talks about how important creativity is for developing minds and how this declines in adulthood. This decline in creativity has become a theory to explain middle-age unhappiness. So, use the Elf as a model for how to stop each day from being repetitive and mundane and find ways to creativity explore and express yourself.

If you have an Elf, enjoy. Or, if you are like me, you have enough to do this season. Either way, take these lessons inspired by the Elf on the Shelf and have an awesome December.

 

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The “Bionic Model” Hits The Runway

Take a look at the newest model to take the stage during New York Fashion Week this year.  American Rebekah Marine, who was born without a right arm, refers to herself as the “bionic model” Check out the following from Time for more information on her modelling career and her appearance at this year’s Fashion Week.

Time:  Meet the Bionic Model Who Walked in New York Fashion Week

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Change Your Habits, Change Your Mood

A habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”  Habits can sometimes become something we do without even realizing it, until someone points it out.  Recently Time Magazine published an article on 12 habits that are bad for your mental health.  Check them out to see if you are doing any of the following, and if so, how you can change to live a happier life.

Time Magazine:  The 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

 

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“Letting Go” in September

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

September is the month of many things – adjusting to new schedules, the end of summer vacations, changing weather, and for those with kids, a return to the hectic schedule of school and extracurricular programs.  As a mother of four, I always find September stressful (see my blog last year “Stress-tember”).  I also know, from having many Septembers under my belt, that it takes me two to three weeks to “adjust” to the changes this month brings.  However, this year, in an attempt to combat stress and move to acceptance of what is, I have decided to take a different approach.  This year, instead of losing sleep and being stressed, I am going to try and “let go”.  I will explain what I mean but first I want to explain what brought me to this concept in the first place.

First, in July our oldest child travelled out the country on her own as a part of an international school program.  Leading up to her trip, I was most worried about how she would do away from home for several weeks, if she would enjoy her trip, and of course hoped it would be an unforgettable learning experience.  Soon after she left, I realized this trip was huge for me too – it was one of the initial phases of me needing to “let go” of my daughter as she grows up.  While scary for a teenager to travel away from home, it is equally scary for a parent – especially when the traveler is your oldest and you have not experienced this before.  Not seeing or talking to her daily, her room staying untouched, the cat having no one to sleep with, not sitting with her for a tea in the morning – all things I became mindful of missing in her absence.

Second, I recently ran into some neighbors on my morning walk.  They have sold their house and are moving out of the country.  This is coming at the time where their youngest is now entering university.  In talking to them about this massive transition, my heart could feel for them in all the things they were experiencing – moving away from the town they raised their children in, where their family and friends are, becoming “empty nesters” for first time as they no longer have children at home, moving across the world to accommodate a work opportunity and not having easy access to their children that will remain in Canada.  It made me realize there are many dimensions and layers in the process of “letting go” and for some this period is gradual, and for others not so much.

So, back to the fall.  I have several things I need to let go of.  I need to move from feeling that I need to control everything because that is what has always kept my kids healthy and safe.  I need to help them “self-regulate” their time and behaviors around the choices they will make at school and after school.   I need to stop being “right” (“mom knows best”) about everything and let some natural consequences be their teaching tool.  I need to support them in their decisions and in those life events that will confront them this year, without solving their problems for them.  And I need to “let go” of the concept that as parents we can “do it all” and “be everything” to our children.  At work I plan on “letting go” of the thought that “if I could only clear my inbox I would feel less stressed” as the reality is that as a business owner my inbox will never be empty, and if it was, that would actually cause me more stress!  Personally, I want to “let go” of how hard I can be on myself when I don’t get it all done, or when I take time for myself amongst things that still need my attention.

I love this quote from Ajahn Chan:  There will never be a time when life is simple. There will always be time to practice accepting that. Every moment is a chance to let go and feel peaceful. 

The Tiny Buddah sites 40 strategies for “letting go”…I will share my personal favorites here:

Focus all your energy on something you can actually control instead of dwelling on things you can’t.

Remind yourself these are your only three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it. These acts create happiness; holding onto bitterness never does.

Hang this statement somewhere you can see it. “Loving myself means letting go.”

Consider this quotation by Eckhart Tolle: “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.” Questioning how your stress serves you may help you let it go.

Replace your thoughts. Notice when you begin thinking about something that stresses you so you can shift your thought process to something more pleasant, like your passion for your hobby.

Organize your desk. According to Georgia Witkin, assistant director of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, completing a small task increases your sense of control and decreases your stress level.

Laugh it out. Research shows that laughter soothes tension, improves your immune system, and even eases pain. If you can’t relax for long, start with just ten minutes watching a funny video on YouTube.

So, Happy September.  Whether you are changing jobs, retiring, returning to a job you love (or not), are starting a new volunteer position, hobby or exercise routine, are putting your child in day care, kindergarten, into high school or university, embrace it.  In the words of Trace Adkins in his song “You’re Going to Miss This”:

you’re going to miss this

you’re going to want this back,

you’re going to wish these years hadn’t gone by so fast…

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Love Languages Applied to Work and Home

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I have a few online Goddesses I follow.  Women entrepreneurs who have built an empire educating other women on how to be successful.  Much like my own blog, they are comfortable sharing their stories of success and failure and want others to benefit from the knowledge they have.

In watching my online videos I will occasionally stumble upon a gem.  A piece of knowledge, a book to read, a way of thinking, or an exercise that truly moves me forward.  I recently had one of those experiences.

The video, by my career-crush and woman with the best hair in the world Marie Forleo (http://www.marieforleo.com/), was on ways to appreciate and be appreciated.  Be it your spouse, children, parents or colleagues at work, we all strive to be loved and appreciated by those that matter to us, and to demonstrate this in return.  Marie was suggesting that in work and life it is helpful to understand how people experience and interpret love and appreciation so the efforts you make towards them can truly have an impact.  While a bit unorthodox, her suggestion was to engage people in the test of their Love Language.  She mentioned that this really helped her and her team know how to work together and ultimately appreciate each other best.  So, I took the test.  And my husband took the test.  And my children.  And my team.  The results were fascinating and helpful.

In my own family, our languages are different.  Personally, I appreciate it most when people take things off my plate.  My mind is a web of things to do so one less thing to think about is hugely valuable and appreciated by me.  Be it “I grabbed the kitty litter, put that envelope in the mail, or will send that email” – it resonates and helps me feel loved.  And call me cold, but I don’t resonate with physical touch (recall MC Hammer “Can’t Touch This”).

My girls are all different.  While most of them ranked “quality time” as their # 1, some prefer “words of affirmation” and one “physical touch”.  Not surprising, my physical touch kid is the one that is always asking for hugs and snuggling up to me on the couch.  Of great interest to me was that the one whose highest score was “words of affirmation” is also the kid that has a really hard time with conversations about things she did wrong or ways she let us down.  That makes sense now as people with this love language “thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words” and can be “shattered by insults”.  While we would never intentionally insult her, indicating that her school work is sloppy will make her feel unloved.  Good to know.  After we took the test and talked about it as a family, I took all of our ratings and put these in a chart by the door where we come and go.  I wanted these to be in plain sight and a regular reminder that our Love Languages are different and this matters when we want or need to be loved and appreciated by one another.  In a chaotic family of 6, this understanding is essential.

So I then took this experience a step further.  I asked the very important women I work with to also take this test.  The results again were interesting.  While my business partner and I tend to use small gifts as a way to show them appreciation, none of them ranked this as important.  Most would rather have unsolicited compliments (“words of affirmation”) then a surprise Edible Arrangement.  Some also prefer “acts of service” or being given “quality time” to feel valued.  At work we can easily implement appreciation actions by offering to help them complete a burdensome task, providing unsolicited compliments, or making sure they have our undivided attention when they need it.

I consider the masterpiece that is myself to be always “under construction” and as such I am repeatedly interested in ways to be better, do better, and spread love.  Love does not need to be considered romantic and according to 5 Love Languages, can be cast over all we meet with through simple gestures, kind words, a pat on the back, a small token of appreciation, or by sparing some time from a packed schedule.  Take the test here and see how you interpret love and appreciation and share that knowledge with those around you.

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Are You Safe in the Sun?

We all know the importance of protecting ourselves in the sun.  Summer is here and with more time spent outdoors and the UV index at its highest it is extremely important to protect yourself.  Proper clothing, sun hats, and shade all help, but many health experts feel the best way to protect ourselves is by regular use of sunscreen.  But how do you know which sunscreen is best and which sunscreens can actually do more harm than good?  Many of the sunscreens we use contain harmful chemicals and though they protect you from the sun’s harmful rays, may actually be harmful in other ways.

Check out the Environmental Working Group’s “Guide to Sunscreens” which annually rates over 1800 different sunscreens available consumers.   Visit the website and see how your favourite brand stacks up.

EWG:  2015 Guide To Sunscreens

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The Benefits of Biking to Work

Nicer weather has arrived!  It’s time to take advantage by getting outside and adding some more physical activity to your life.  Biking to work, if your commute is close enough, is a great way to increase physical activity, reduce the effects of sitting disease, save time, money, and help the environment.  Don’t have bike?  Don’t worry!  Bike share programs, like the City of Hamilton’s new Bike the Hammer program, are popping up in cities across Ontario.

Check out more about this healthy alternative to driving in this helpful infographic from Lifehack.com:

bike-to-work-week

 

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Healthy is a Lifestyle, Not Just a Behavior

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

In my work as an occupational therapist I am often asked to help people learn to manage or improve their behavior.  Things they want to stop or start doing, and how to get there, become the topic of our treatment sessions.  But my response in these situations is often the same and my approach is to encourage people make “lifestyle” and not just “behavior” changes when it comes to improving function or health.  After all, if behavior (be·hav·ior) is: “the way in which one acts or conducts oneself, especially toward others” and a lifestyle (life·style) is: “the way in which a person or group lives”, then there is a difference between acting and living.  My job is to coach the latter.

The difference in linguistics might seem small, but I would argue it is huge when actually implementing change.  I was reminded of this the other day when taking my daughter to the doctor.  Our doctor’s office is on the second floor.  She entered the building and moved towards the elevator.  I said “sorry Abs, we take the stairs”.  She made a disapproving face and I said “we would take the elevator if we needed to, but we don’t and the stairs align with our healthy lifestyle…race ya…”

I wanted her to know that our decisions need to align with our lifestyle and that deciding to take the stairs is not just a behavioral choice (“how should I act given my choices”)?  It is a way of living that will create the life we want as a family.

I still maintain that the best course I took in University was “Behavior Modification”.  Our project was to modify one of our own behaviors over the four months of the course.  As a dog owner, I chose the behavior of “dog walking” with the goal of making this a more regular routine.  Over the next four months I mapped out routes, increased walking distances and times, monitored my progress, and made a list of great dog walking locations in my community.  By the end of the four months I had adjusted my behavior from walking 20-30 minutes to two hours per day, spread over the morning and evening.  This is a routine I maintained for years – adjusting it as needed to accommodate my life changes along the way.  But my point is that in hindsight, the course did not allow me to modify my “behavior”, because in the end I modified my “lifestyle” as this ultimately became the way I lived.

When taking that course I was told that it took four months to modify a behavior.  I have since heard that it takes three weeks to develop a new routine.  Perhaps the difference between these is that three weeks is a consistent period to make behavior change, but four months is needed for lifestyle adaptation.

Working with my clients I explain that lifestyle change is a commitment and like many things, requires daily practice.  We need time to reach the goals together, and change cannot and will not happen overnight because if it did, it would not be sustainable.

Spring is here, the sun is out, days are longer…a perfect time to ask yourself what lifestyle you want to have and to develop a plan to take you in that direction.  Don’t over think it.  Go big.  If “healthy” is on your mind, commit to a full out lifestyle change and make your daily decisions align with that.  Take the stairs, adjust your schedule, cut out the sugar, run the marathon, train for the Paralympics, but ultimately commit to a lifestyle and dedicate your energy towards living that way.