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Curveballs & Life’s Big Events

Aug 24 2021
By Laura Roe Stevens
4 min read
Man leaning on railing of bridge while hiking in a green forest.

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus wisely said: “Change is the only constant in life.”

And while many of us may accept that on an intellectual level, last-minute shifts are always stressful – especially so when it comes to anticipated events. When we plan for months, or even years, for a major vacation, corporate presentations, public performances, or other big events, a sudden and unexpected change can leave us feeling blindsided. We may even feel a psychological and emotional impact that can impair judgment or performance.

“Anxiety is powerful. When we’re triggered by an unexpected change, we may feel out of control and helpless. It can take time to adjust and get our bearings again,” says Mary C. Cahilly, MA, LPC, LMHC, Senior Mental Health & Wellness Therapist at Canyon Ranch Lenox.

When life delivers one of its curveballs and upsets established plans, the resulting rush of activities and panic may keep you from noticing the toll it’s taking on your body and mind. “Do we push through regardless of stress that is now off the charts?”

Some say this kind of curveball was thrown at competitors during the 2020 Olympics, when they had to perform in nearly empty venues due to COVID-19 regulations. While elite athletes are known for mental toughness, focus, and determination, this last-minute shift may have affected them. In an article in Scientific American, experts surmised that the quiet settings – no audience, no cheering family members surprised a few athletes who opted out of some competition. Visualization plays a critical role in athletes’ training, with the focus on imagining conditions of the upcoming event as closely as possible. After years of training for a public sporting event, who would have anticipated having no audience? Experts say it may have had a physiological effect – causing the brain to send out alarms that something is wrong. That might cause competitors to lose confidence and not feel at their best. It’s a feeling we can all identify with in different ways.

So, how can we better adapt or pivot more successfully through sudden changes? Reminders to “always expect the unexpected” don’t offer any practical advice. According to Cahilly, though, these strategies can help:

Visualization may help you orient to new surroundings. Rain threatens an outdoor wedding, or a guest speaker cancels right before your charity event? Try visualizing yourself at a new venue or in changed circumstance. See yourself feeling at ease, performing well, and adeptly handling tasks that improve the situation.

Deep breathing and meditation are well known for easing anxiety as well. Calm yourself and get re-centered with a breathing meditation, focusing on each inhale and exhale. Restoring clarity can prepare you to handle changes better.

Consider meeting with a therapist or life coach in advance of your big event. Explore how you might enjoy your event while also attending to your emotional, mental and relational needs. This process can help balance expectations with self-care.

“Caring for ourselves sometimes takes enormous courage,” Cahilly says, “especially if saying ‘yes’ to our own mental and physical well-being means saying ‘no’ to others’ expectations.”

Only you can say whether you’re ready to adapt or not. In the end, putting your health and well-being first is always the most important goal.

Scientific American: “The Olympics without Fans is Harming Athletes’ Performance”

Headshot of Mary Cahilly, MA, LMHC, LPC, CCTP at Canyon Ranch Lenox

About the Expert

Headshot of Mary Cahilly, MA, LMHC, LPC, CCTP at Canyon Ranch Lenox

Mary Cahilly

MA, LMHC, LPC, CCTP, Mental Health & Wellness Therapist

Mary is dedicated to helping her clients remember the truth and beauty of who they are. Weaving transpersonal psychotherapy, mindfulness approaches to wellness, and her understanding of neuroscience, she teaches her clients how to pause and access their own inherent wisdom as they move through life’s challenges and celebrate life’s preciousness.

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