Transitions, whether they be from roles, relationships or through organisational change, offer the individual an opportunity. It is during these times that one has the chance to step back and develop an awareness of one's environment, one's thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Unfortunately, we tend to get caught up in the emotional impact of these transitions and experience negative, ruminating thoughts that neglect to switch off, including feelings of self-doubt and potentially destructive behaviour.
What can you do to manage these inherent negative reactions during times of transition?
Thriving Through Transitions
Breathe - as simple as it sounds, most of us neglect to take full breaths and experience the benefit of kicking our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) into action. Our PNS is our "rest and digest" system which is activated by taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly, which in turn activates the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve stimulates the release of acetylcholine (a neurotransmitter) which has a cascade effect throughout the body, promoting an environment of stability and inner-calm.
Stop Multi-tasking - we spend the majority of our time rushing from activity to activity with our attention under constant demand. Similar to having tabs open in our browsers, our brains also have tabs open, reflecting all of the activities we are meant to be focusing on. Science now tells us that this constant task-switching rapidly depletes our energy stores, leaving us both cognitively and physically exhausted. Our "efficiencies" actually become deficiencies, shown to reduce our productivity by as much as 40%!
Establish a Routine - when we are going through a transition, it's imperative that we conserve our cognitive energy stores so that we have enough energy to focus on what matters and make the right decisions. Having a morning and evening routine/ritual helps us manage our energy so that we have enough and are ultimately more efficient. Something as simple as selecting your clothes & breakfast the evening before actually reduces your decision making in the morning, keeping your 'tank full' for the important decisions later that day. Something Steve Jobs, Ariana Huffington and Mark Zuckerberg employed early in their careers.
Get Active - aside from the dopamine release physical activity provides (feel good hormones), increasing blood flow to your brain actually stimulates the production of new brain cells (neurogenesis), reduces and prevents the effects of oxidative stress, and preserves memory stores. 1 Regular physical activity is also an energy booster, fighting fatigue and providing additional energy when you need it most. 2 Don't have the time? Get up 20 minutes earlier and your body & brain will thank-you.
Plan Your Meals- when going through change, making decisions about what and when to eat are often fraught with desires for quick, readily available, nutrient-poor choices. Researchers have now made a direct link to type of and timing of food and mood, meaning what and how often you eat not only effects your brain's performance, but the thoughts that you have and the feelings that you cultivate.
You have the control to positively direct your emotions and your behaviour.
We're Only Human
We are prone to get 'stuck' in moments and our negativity bias makes it difficult for us to get out.
According to Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, we are essentially suffering from a neuronal hang-over from our prehistoric ancestors, known as our negativity bias. This theory suggests that our sympathetic nervous system is constantly "on" for our survival, keeping our central nervous system in a "fight or flight" state, elevating our cortisol levels (stress hormones) and putting us at risk for mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression. As a further consequence, Hanson has discovered that our brains are wired to hold onto the negative emotions (think velcro-like) and seemingly let go of positive emotions (think teflon). The good news is that we can rewire our brains to hold onto the positive and let go of the negative.
Increasing the amount of positive emotions in your life and letting yourself absorb those experiences of positivity can help build neural pathways that combat the negativity bias. Hanson's method suggests you: i) have the experience (or reminisce about a positive experience), ii) enrich it by staying with it for 15 seconds and iii) then absorb it from the top of your head to the tip of your toes. In time you can begin to link these positive emotions/experiences with negative in order to combat the detrimental effects and increase your resilience.
In summary, change and transitions are inevitable, how you manage yourself during these times provides an opportunity to make conscious choices. Build up and absorb positive emotions and apply the 5 strategies above, and you will set yourself up to thrive during these challenging times and throughout life.
Cortex Consulting works with individuals and organisations through transitions, contact Kirsten today to empower you through the process.
1 Davenport, Hogan, Eskes,. Longman, & Poulin (2012). Cerebrovascular Reserve: The Link Between Fitness and Cognitive Function? Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews: 40 (3), 153-158. doi: 10.1097/JES.0b013e3182553430