Life is a journey, not a destination. A journey usually means changes in direction and scenery along the way. Surely, this is one of the things that prevents life becoming boring and monotonous. Nevertheless, I believe our attitude towards the journey plays a significant role in how interesting we allow our journey to become. Change is a challenging phenomenon for humanity. We become easily comfortable, and although this can become dull, secretly we like it because we are not threatened or shaken out of our comfort zones. Today, Poppi started school. Big school. Proper school. All-day school. No more half days or nursery, but real school. The start of a new chapter. The next leg of the journey. A massive change.
A lot of the children I work with in therapy find change incredibly difficult. Fear of the unknown, misunderstanding of trust, unpredictability, a sense of feeling out of control, unspecified time frame and uncertain relationships throw all of us into a state of panic. However, if you have experienced chaos and trauma at regular points in your life, your threat response will be more hypervigilant and thus your response to change and uncertainty will be amplified. When we feel threatened our body jumps into action to help us feel safe again. The rational part of our brain goes ‘offline’ and the brainstem, our survival brain, is fired up. Our brain receives the threatening signal and decides what to do – fight, flight or freeze. The appropriate hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) are then released to help us respond. If we are then met with a reassuring smile, a helping hand, or a calming voice our brain starts to recognise this as safe; we gradually calm down and our rational brain eventually returns to working order. On the other hand, if we are not reassured we must keep ourselves safe and so these hormones (which become toxic in large quantities) continue being released to allow us to survive.
Change is something that stimulates stress. Poppi starting school could have been a stressful experience for both me and her. Fortunately, it was not. We have spoken a lot about school over the holidays and the differences that it will entail. I have chatted with other mums about the challenges we might face – extra tiredness, therefore more tantrums – and I have made myself aware of my personal difficulties – my own tiredness (and often hunger) at school pick up time. Preparation is vital when it comes to change. With any transition, we spend time with traumatised children helping them through the process. I don’t think we should stop there. We all need help and support through big life changes. New jobs, even new roles in the same job, moving house, starting a new relationship, beginning a new hobby, starting school, having a baby are all massively challenging (but eventually rewarding) parts of life’s journey. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…why face them alone?
Our natural physiological response to change is one that happens unconsciously. Therefore we can do nothing about that. We can, however, put things in place to ensure that those stress hormones are not left bubbling inside us and causing us other physical problems as a result. BT (British Telecom) has gotten one thing right in their advertising…” it’s good to talk”. May I encourage you – if you have a change coming up (however big or small) and it is playing on your mind, find someone you trust to talk to. If that isn’t possible right now, try writing it down. There is something quite powerful about not physically carrying the thoughts and worries. By talking/writing them out their intrinsic power is lessened.
Let’s make the journey of life a united adventure rather than an isolated slog and start school with a massive smile on our face!