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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante   

Good change can still be stressful!

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante


When good things are about to happen, people can be surprised when they have mixed feelings at the same time such as happiness, anxiety, excitement, and sadness.

“What’s wrong with me?” said a well-dressed, put-together woman who sat on the chair opposite me, asking this question out loud to herself. Kate was days away from her wedding, which was perfectly planned, right down to the colour of nail polish she would be wearing. Her adoration for her fiancé was clear; he was the love of her life, kind, intelligent and supportive. Both sides of the family got along well, and everyone was excited.

Yet, Kate couldn’t help feeling that as the big day drew closer, her anxiety and doubts were getting louder. When she thought about the wedding, she would get this sinking feeling in her stomach and wondered if she was doing the right thing.

Then there was the case of John who had retired two weeks earlier. He had been a well-respected, successful manager in a large company. He was looking forward to travelling, playing golf, and visiting with friends. But lately, he was feeling sad and nervous for no apparent reason. He and his spouse were arguing more, despite having additional time to spend together.

When people think of life events such as retirement, getting married, or becoming parents, they often focus on the excitement and benefits of the change. But as time gets closer to the big event or soon after it happens, unexpected emotions such as anxiety or sadness can happen, causing people to feel conflicted. Guilt sometimes appears, which can add to the emotional confusion. Thoughts can pop up such as, “I should be happy, but I’m not,” followed by, “What is wrong with me?”

Some people don’t realize that change, good or bad, can be difficult. This is in part because even good change is accompanied by loss. Kate, in our first example, knew that her uneasiness was not at all due to a loss of love for her fiancé or that she didn’t want to marry him. After allowing herself to think about it, she realized that she was saying goodbye to some of her independence. For most of her adult life, she made her own decisions about finances, career, and did what she wanted when she wanted. Now, she was in a partnership and needed to think about the wellbeing of two people. She also wondered about how much time she would be able to spend with her friends and family. After discussing these worries with her fiancé, she realized that he would be supportive of her individual needs too, and her doubts started to disappear.

After some discussion, Jerry realized that before retirement, he assumed that he would be living the good life. He happily thought about doing what he pleased, having fun all day, and not having to worry about anything. But before long, he started to miss having a purpose to get up in the morning. He didn’t have a routine any longer and he missed having responsibility. His sadness and unrest were affecting his marriage since he was confused about his feelings, which only came out as anger and frustration. After he allowed himself to process these feelings, he realized that he still needed some structure. He found a part-time job doing bookkeeping for a small company and volunteered at the hospital one day a week. He also joined a gym so that he could have a morning exercise routine. The sadness eased and he felt that he had a balanced lifestyle.

If you are having a hard time dealing with a big life event, consider doing the following:

  • Acknowledge your feelings, no matter what they are. Telling yourself that you “shouldn’t” feel a certain way may cause guilt and even intensify the uncomfortable feelings. Try writing out thoughts in a journal or e-mail yourself.
  • Talk to someone you trust. This will avoid feeling alone and feeling that something is “wrong” with you. You might find that others will open up and share similar sentiments about their own experiences.
  • Make a list of what your life looked like before and after the change. Highlight the things that you like or enjoyed about both times in your life. Then think about whether there are ways to still have it in some way.
  • Think about other big changes in your past and whether there were any similar feelings. Was there anything that helped to calm you down at that time? Chances are the same strategies will help again.
  • Find effective ways to cope, such as exercise, meditation, or a creative hobby.

“Love is more afraid of change than destruction.” – Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher, poet and scholar

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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