is one of my favorite movies. Though I was only eight years old at its release, I've watched it countless times throughout my life. Every time I finish watching, I take something new from it. But most often I'm reminded of Mama's refrain,
Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get.
For a simple--and slightly ambiguous--statement, it carries a lot of weight. During each instant, life is changing--whether we notice it or not. Small, incremental changes over the course of time add up to life altering moments. Sometimes, though, increments are disregarded and huge change, packaged in uncertainty, arrives bewilderingly on the doorstep. Change is mandated--you've no choice but to open the package.
Many times it's in these moments that we seize up and resist. Under-estimating the importance of uncontrolled elements or the need for progressive flow, we build walls to our own detriment. In pursuit of health, happiness and progress, however, it's important that we get out of our own way. It's important that we adapt to change.
The Trap of Staunch Resistance
The body recognizes any change in homeostasis as stress, and responds accordingly. In distress--negative stress felt with resistance to change--the body alters hormone levels and modifies metabolic processes to meet what it deems as survival needs. During high levels of stress, your body literally goes into survival mode--even if the stress exists only in your mind.
Cortisol levels skyrocket and testosterone plummets. In women, menstrual cycles are erratic. Immunity lowers, opening the door for illness. Stress induced hypertension leads to a host of other problems and carb intolerance plans an attack on your physique. Gather from the previous few sentences that resistance to change turns the body into a metabolic mess.
As metabolism and mental state are altered, so too is the ability get from life what we all desire--happiness.
Letting the Walls Come Down
Adapting to change requires vulnerability. It's scary to look at what's uncontrollable and accept that our powers of influence are moot. But this is the most important acknowledgment we make. Accepting that certain elements of life are out of our control allows us to adapt to change--understandably and, at times, unwillingly.
Blind acceptance, however, doesn't promote progress--we need strategy and action.
Here are a few well-researched and well-acted-upon strategies for adapting to change and controlling the stress that it delivers.
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Herbs such as ginseng and rhodiola rosea have been found to promote hormonal homeostasis. With the world whirling around us, our survival mechanisms try to meet external conditions by altering hormone balance. While this seems appropriate, it also wreaks havoc on the autonomic nervous system. Hormonal balance is important for promoting sympathetic nervous system function, which, in turn, will promote progress in the face of change. To get the full physiological effect of adaptogen supplementation, use the given herb, or supplement containing the herb, for at least four weeks.
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When it seems like control is increasingly absent from our lives, routine offers a constant. It's your opportunity to make choices that structure your life in the presence of apparent chaos.
Each night before you go to bed plan your next day in half-hour time blocks--be sure to prioritize the most important things by placing them early in the day. To keep on track, set timers and be strict with the schedule. The clarity and stress reduction of knowing each day's planned journey will astound you. Plus, if something pops up all you have to do is alter your template to stay on track.
I've heard a time or two that a healthy, objective perspective is the key to happiness. That may be. But more importantly, objectivity limits the emotional toll our mind and body takes during sudden, life-altering changes. It enhances our ability to adapt. The problem is, objectivity isn't easy.
Practice obtaining self-objectivity by thinking of your current situation as if your friend were encountering it. What advice would you give that friend? How would you help them find reason in the face of change?
Objectifying your problems by projecting them outwardly allows you to reason through them without taking the situation personally. Apply reason to your situation and you'll see change for what it is--a chance to learn and grow.
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Like routine, meditation enhances our sense of control. In truth, however, meditation exercises control over the only two things we truly have control over--breathing and thought.
Meditation reduces life to the bare essentials--removing the clutter of change and the extraneous stress imposed upon our psyches and bodies. By concentrating only on your breathing, you quiet your mind while controlling the moment at hand. Do this and you've beaten the confusion of change.
Apart from psychological benefits, meditation affects physiology. Deep, controlled diaphragmatic (belly) breaths have a profound effect on the autonomic nervous system--simultaneously restoring sympathetic and parasympathetic tone. Balance between these two parts of an integrated system promotes hormone equilibrium and limits negative effects of stress--allowing you to adapt to each stimulus as it comes.
Things will change. Apart from Benjamin Franklin's certainties of death and taxes, you can rest assured that each coming day holds a new challenge. As with most things, successful adaptation to change--rising to meet each new challenge--requires strategy and preparation. Use the above strategies, adapt and make progress.