Here we explore the effects of times of change and how the difficult emotions experienced during the gap between the old and the new can be tolerated whilst waiting for the wheel of life to turn.
Wired to Want Certainty…
Life is a continuous journey of change. From birth onwards, we repeatedly face new challenges that contribute to our overall growth. We continue through our whole lives transitioning from one phase to another. However, it’s not always a case of going from ‘A’ to ‘B’, with immediacy and certainty. Some phases can be more challenging than others and can bring with them great discomfort. We are wired to want what’s familiar, because that’s where safety is. Take away that of which we feel certain and, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in an emotional ‘no man’s land’. We are no longer ‘there’ and ‘here’ is unknown and out of sight.
Is there a name for this place?
In psychology, this place is referred to as ‘liminal space’. ‘Liminal’ comes from the Latin word to mean ‘threshold’. Liminal space happens to all of us at some point and, for some, can be the source of anxiety and fear. It can seem like being trapped in a deep canyon, with no ladder for escape. Perhaps a decision needs to be made, but which one? Maybe the once familiar has moved into alien and uncharted territory. We can feel so unsettled and unsure – feelings that are hard to tolerate. So, what can be done?
Liminal space can feel like being trapped in a canyon with no ladder for escape
Try to Relax
Seeking healthy ways to relax is a great place to start. Uncertainty triggers our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response – our inbuilt, primal, safety mechanism – a really useful function to have if we’re under genuine threat, but uncertainty often isn’t threatening, its simply unfamiliar and therefore feels frightening. Practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation can help soothe our sympathetic nervous system and let it know all is well. The added benefit of this is that we allow our pre-frontal cortex, the ‘thinking’ part of the brain, to come back ‘online’, enabling more clarity and the ability to problem solve.
We can also try to monitor our thoughts. When our stress response is activated, we tend to think in negative absolutes; “this is the worst ever”, “this is never going to end”, “I can’t stand this”. We can practice challenging these thoughts and adjusting them to something more balanced and compassionate, like “This is a tough time, but I’ve survived difficult times before so know I can cope”. We can also remind ourselves that the wheel of life keeps turning – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly – but it does turn nonetheless.
The practice of expressing gratitude has been shown to improve our overall psychological well-being and can be particularly useful if we are feeling anxious. Noting down those things for which we are grateful on a daily basis can remind us of all that is good around. It can distract us from negative thinking and shifts our focus away from unpleasant emotions, replacing them with more positive vibes.
If this post resonates with you and you are currently finding it hard to see the wood for the trees, counselling may well help. Sharing our worries with a trained professional, who is non-biased and non-judgmental, can be a transformative experience that can help with find a way through challenging times.