Life changes perceived as both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ can be incredibly stressful – think moving house, changing jobs, making or breaking a relationship, or having a child. On the other hand, stagnation can become monotonous. Consider the mind-numbing tedium of jogging the same track day in, day out. The old rule of thumb applies: when you don’t have change or ‘newness’, you crave it, but when it presents itself, a sudden burst of stress-head hormone cortisol may send you sprinting a thousand miles in the opposite direction, screaming ‘please old life, come back!’
Many psychologists have studied the concept of life stages and human development – famously, Daniel Levinson and Erik Erikson, and most recently clinical psychologist and author of Life: A Guide Andrew Fuller. While experts’ theories differ, one thing is agreed: humans never stop evolving and lives never stop changing – like it or lump it,
During this period, you might ask yourself the mother of all questions: what is the meaning of my life? This trying time, dubbed the ‘terrible twenties’, often involves testing different values, relationships, lifestyles and jobs.
Figuring out who you are and your place in the world can be a mixed bag that, according to Fuller, requires the right dose of animus (the male part of your female psyche).
“What your masculine side is good at is getting stuff done, understanding what is important and what is not important,” says Fuller, who cautions that injecting too much animus may result in you becoming too hard or domineering.
- Try new experiences; see and do different things
- Be prepared to change if something isn’t working, regardless of what people might think of your choices
- Loved up in your relationship’s honeymoon stage? All well and good, but don’t neglect friendships in the process
- Avoid alcohol or drugs in stressful situations – or any situation, for that matter – as depressants will only add fuel to the fire
- Develop your skills. What are you good at? What do you like to do? What makes you happy?
“Take an audit of your interests. It’s like buying a plant, with a label saying, ‘thrives best in sunny conditions with a certain amount of water’. Try to identify your optimal growing conditions, which may of course be different from one seven year stage to the next,” advises Fuller.
THE NAPOLEON YEARS
As the saying goes, what you sow you reap. Sensibly (but not too sensibly – remember, it’s all about balance), laying down the foundations of adulthood means you now reap the benefits of greater stability as you transit toward the next stage. And you might just need it, because…could that be the pitter-patter of teeny-weeny feet?
Yes, this stage is when children are often introduced to the world, which Fuller believes – as precious and wonderful as children are – is like placing a hand grenade into the middle of a relationship. Sleepless nights can wearily accumulate until…tick, tick, tick…boom! The key to managing the transition to such life-altering states as parenthood is acknowledging that requesting or accepting assistance is no act of shame.
“Parenting is an incredibly complex task. All parents need mentors and support people – a partner, friends, parents, or an outside professional who can provide perspective on things,” says Fuller.
- Get motivated; read stories of inspirational leaders (like Buddha, who became enlightened in his final ‘Napoleon’ year)
- Hold onto your inner wildchild; don’t ditch your daring ways too soon
- Don’t compare your life to others – different strokes for different folks
- Don’t spread yourself too thin
MAKE TIME FOR YOU
During any life transition, deciphering new priorities and rearranging life accordingly can be difficult. Unfortunately, ‘me time’ is often placed at the bottom of the priority pile.
“Consider some of the things that give you a profound sense of peace. Being in nature, singing, dancing, yoga, meditation, lighting candles, firelight, starlight, moonlight, fresh flowers, aromas, soaking in a bath and being in, under or near water. These are all activities that bring us back to the present moment. What stops you from having a life full of that?” asks founding director and CEO of the Quest for Life Foundation, Petrea King.
You guessed the answer. It’s the classic line: ‘I don’t have time!’
“Everybody gets 168 hours in the week. I checked that out internationally,” assures King. “Divvy up your 168 hours so that you do things that replenish and nourish you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Do that first, before the kids, workplace or family; before anything. It is your job to first fill up your own bucket, and then give only from the overflow rather than running around giving from a half-empty bucket.”
Fuller also stresses the importance of setting up some kind of ritual to claim back a bit of time, even if it is just phoning a friend and having a five-minute conversation. It all adds up to make a sizeable difference.
MOVE WITH THE TIMES
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be an incredibly valuable tool when life’s twists and turns leave you dazed and confused. “CBT is about identifying patterns of thinking that contribute to upsetting emotions, and learning to see things in a more healthy and balanced way. This may involve distinguishing between the things we can change and those we can’t, and choosing not to waste energy on things that are beyond our control,” says clinical psychologist and author of Change Your Thinking, Dr Sarah Edelman.
But what if taking a ‘wrong’ turn fills you with a sense of guilt and regret, which prevents you from being able to move on? I shouldn’t have quit that job, left that relationship, travelled instead of buying a house…
“We are always operating with limited knowledge and awareness, so it’s irrational and pointless to say ‘I should have done such-and-such’,” says Dr Edelman. “We never have perfect information about the consequences of our actions. We can only discover consequences with the passage of time. With the benefit of hindsight we can learn from the experience and use this to make better decisions in the future.”
So live and learn to thrive rather than simply survive, and enjoy the ride of your life!