It’s the nature of growing up that we have to face changes, both big and small, in our lives. Moving to a new home, shifting friend groups, the loss of family members and transitioning to college and into independence are big milestones we experience as we age.
As adolescents, we may struggle with change and rely on our parents and caregivers to support us emotionally. As adults, we’re often left to our own devices in learning how to handle change and figure out tools for coping with stress that comes alongside big adjustments.
If you’re struggling to juggle living a normal life among major changes that are happening to you, you can look to the future with hope. In this article, we’ll share what happens in your body and mind when change occurs, plus the major life changes that cause stress and the best way to bear through it.
The body’s way of coping with stress
Whether we’re in the midst of a divorce, a demanding job promotion or the stress of caring for newborns, our bodies and brains have fascinating ways of protecting and healing themselves. When we face stressful life events, the adaptations we make can help us manage current and past distress and retain memories to avoid unpleasant experiences in the future. Here’s how.
According to the American Psychological Association, stress that is brought about by major life changes affects all systems of the body.
The musculoskeletal system: Stress results in muscle tension and chronic stress can cause further complications. Muscle tension can protect the body from injury in the short term, but can cause migraines and tension headaches if the anxiety does not subside.
The respiratory system: Rapid breathing and a quick heart rate are common symptoms of stress. Someone who experiences a dramatic change may feel like it is impossible to break, which could even trigger a panic attack or an asthma attack.
Cardiovascular system: A person met with a stressful event will have an increased heart rate and strong contractions of the heart muscles. If stress is left unchecked and continues, over time someone may face an increased risk of hypertension, heart attack and stroke.
The endocrine system: The body’s hormonal stress response is designed to assist you in dealing with difficulty. When faced with a major life change, a person’s endocrine system will produce cortisol, which gives you the energy to handle whatever life throws at you. Endless production of cortisol can trigger anxiety, though.
Gastrointestinal system: Change in life can actually bring about changes in gut health. Stress can affect digestion, leading to constipation, diarrhea, muscle spasms and nutrient absorption.
The brain is an amazing structure and marvelously adaptable. When we encounter a change in our lives, regardless of the nature of the change, our brains start working to adjust to a new frame of life immediately.
Regardless of our emotional reactions to a shift or a surprise, the brain is designed to cope with current issues and prepare for future ones. This is termed “neuroplasticity.” Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to make new mental connections in response to both good and bad experiences. Neuroplasticity is the process of brain learning.
Change in life, like the loss of a loved one, means that even on a cellular level our bodies are reacting. In response to significant hardship, the way our brain cells communicate will shift its structure and function. While we may not consciously feel these brain adjustments, it’s likely they have shaped our interactions and thoughts about the world.
We all face stressful life events and our bodies adapt to manage the distress and retain memories to avoid distress in the future.
Major life changes that can cause stress
There are a plethora of changes that we undergo during our adult lives. While some of these are par for the course, others may be experiences that are completely unique to us. Here are some major life changes that could trigger stress.
- A divorce
- A breakup
- The loss of a family member or friend
- The loss of a spouse
- Having children
- Receiving a medical or mental health diagnosis
- A loved one receiving a diagnosis
- A change in career field
- Returning to school
- Stressful job experiences
- A demanding promotion
- Closing a family business
- Change in family makeup
- Loss of family income
- Change in living conditions
- Change in lifestyle
- Adult children leaving the home (empty nest syndrome)
- Loss of community or cultural experiences
There are endless types of changes that can cause distress in a person’s life. If you’ve dealt with life-altering change, the next step is learning ways for coping with the stress that change brings.
How to handle change
How to handle change in life isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of solution. Each person will find unique tools to learn from change and move into the future. However, they’re some options you’ll want to try out. Here are the best ideas for coping with stress.
Working with a mental health professional is the surest way to personalize your toolkit for dealing with change. You’ll learn to identify top stressors and come up with solutions that work for you.
Because stress affects both the mind and the body, you’ll want to make sure you’re nurturing both. Exercise can help boost your mood and give you an outlet to minimize distressing feelings like anger, loneliness and apathy.
Whether it involves evening strolls while you listen to a podcast or a long bath after work, incorporating activities that make you feel good into your routine is important. You deserve to invest in your well-being on a daily basis with simple activities.
Writing down your thoughts can help you express how a major life adjustment has impacted you, and see progress in your response as time progresses.
Try out the Light Program
The Light Program offers mental health counseling for those undergoing a major life change. Call today to learn more.