Niha Zubair, Arivale Clinical Research Scientist, PhD
Every new season of life brings with it a mixed bag of joys, gains, losses, and challenges. When the challenging times hit, it’s easy to look back on earlier, simpler seasons with nostalgia. Being single versus in a relationship, married with no kids versus married with tiny humans versus married with teenage humans — it’s easy to wish for what once was and ignore that it too had its fair share of struggles.
The tendency to want to “go back to the way things were” is common. And yet, it’s impossible.
Everything in the universe is constantly, consistently (albeit slowly at times) moving forward.
I recently had my own experience in this matter when I entered the wild world of parenting with the birth of my daughter. As much as you try to prepare or imagine what it will be like and how you will adjust, there are events, circumstances, and situations you cannot predict or control. While you can take stories from others who’ve gone before you and assume you’ll go through something similar, your exact journey will always look different.
When a big disruption (baby!) creates a plot twist in your routine for the basic necessities of life (eating, moving, sleeping, managing stress), a sense of panic to “get things back to how they were before” can set in.
And yet, there is no going backward.
What’s a new parent (newlywed, newly single, newly whatever-your-season-of-life-is) to do? Throw my hands up and say “Hakuna Matata” and do nothing? Cry? (You can blame the hormones for that.) Muster up enough willpower to push back or to try harder? Dive into the research to find out what the best solution is?
All of those things can and probably will happen (let’s be honest, the crying happens a lot, sometimes spontaneously). What I found to be true is that it was all OK. All the feelings, instinctual reactions, and overwhelming sense to find some sort of normalcy—it was all OK.
An attitude of acceptance led to a sense of peace amidst the chaos. Simply stating, “This is really hard right now, and that’s OK,” or “I don’t have it all figured out right now, and that’s OK,” ushered in a sense of grace and a reminder that not everything needs to be fixed or remedied right away. To constantly compare this season to a previous season only brought on guilt or shame that I couldn’t make it work.
And then a funny thing happened. When I allowed things to be OK as they were (and fully understood I could never go back to the way things were), opportunities began to arise. The concepts from previous seasons of life were still true—eating, moving, sleeping, and managing stressors were all still critical to survival and eventual thriving. However, the context in which they played out had to change. I had to let go of previous expectations that I would go to bed at 10 pm and wake up at 6 am to get a work out in before making a nutritious breakfast and heading off to work.
There is no going backward, only forward.
This made room for a new expectation of just getting enough sleep to make it through the very next day. The same was true for eating. I still knew the basic concepts of needing protein, fiber, and lots of water (among other things) were true. But what that looked like on a day to day basis was not nearly as extravagant and diverse as it once was—or what it will be in another week, month, or year as things continue to shift and change and new rhythms are created, broken, and made new again.
What season of life are you in right now? Are you transitioning? Recovering?
Take a breath. State your truth, and remind yourself it’s OK. It’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to be messy. It’s OK to not have it all figured out. Acceptance is a huge part of any health journey and it can take you to unexpected places.