Changing Your Mind
The Heartsong Center offers a tune-up for your brain

Crap Shoot
New Mexico's multimillion-dollar bet on legal gambling

Salsa Days
The night the lights went out on Jessie's Café

Last Call
Our reporter takes alcohol servers' training

The Songs of the Land
Modern-day Apache Joe Saenz teaches ancient lessons


Columns and Departments
Editor's Note
Desert Diary

Theatre Festival
Cowboy Exhibit
Top 10

Business Exposure
Celestial Cycles
The Starry Dome
Ramblin' Outdoors
40 Days & 40 Nights
Guides to Go
Henry Lightcap's Journal
Continental Divide

Special Section
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Diana Ingalls Leyba
Arts News
Gallery Guide

Body, Mind & Spirit
The Change We Need
Coping or Healing?

Red or Green
Dining Guide
Mimbres Valley Café
Table Talk

About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   January 2009


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Benefits of change. Change brings many benefits that ultimately reward those who choose it or stumble into it. Even those who fall into major trauma or self-destruction can eventually wake up to find their lives are improved by the changes that result:

  • Change opens new opportunities. The new perspectives that come with change allow you to see your environment in a new light. You will be able to see the other sides of people's characters, new career and social opportunities, and the possibilities of recreating yourself.

  • Change allows new habits to form. Habits inevitably form with time as we conform to familiar environments, and these habits become less useful and close us up. Change dissolves some of these patterns, opening up new space to play with, to try out new things, and to imagine new possibilities. This allows us to have vision outside of our blinders, to see outside of our walls.

  • Change is toughening. Though change is stressful, it exercises our emotional, relational and coping muscles, making us stronger. The more we work to adjust to changes now, even small changes, the better we are able to adapt to changes in the future, whether chosen, accidental or traumatic.

  • Change keeps our brain sharp. Neuroscientists recommend regularly changing habitual approaches to doing things in order to keep our brains sharp. Changing perspectives forces our brains to create new neural pathways and to use brain cells that may not be currently active.

How to cope with change? As we encounter and choose change over our lifetimes, what can we do to make change a little easier to live with?

1. Have a positive attitude. Heart-surgery research has found that positive attitudes about surgery predict survival and longevity afterwards. Positive thinking is one of the most powerful tools for improving the quality of life, whether the changes we face are catastrophic (loss, financial loss), risky (surgery) or mundane (aging).

2. Look for open doors. Opportunities become available when we disconnect from any one place, person or behavior, because this leaves space for something new to happen. When one relationship ends, we can look for better relationships that allow for a harmony of needs. When a job ends, we can find one that better suits us, or fits with our development needs. When we change our living situation in any way, we can more easily change old habits to ones that are more vital.

3. Arrange for change to come in small steps. It is often overwhelming to try to change too much at once. For example, the intense work and adjustments that come with moving to another home can lead to emotional exhaustion if you don't learn to pace yourself and find help. Don't expect too much of yourself; make a plan that gives you room to breathe.

4. Take care of your body. You can restore balance more quickly when change becomes overwhelming if you take care of your physical needs. Take care of your body by getting enough rest, healthy food and hydration, because those will help your body survive the onslaught of stress hormones without getting sick. Self-care will also make it possible for your brain to think clearly and to see new possibilities that can get you out of old messes.

5. Get support. The support of family and friends is also an essential way to cope with high stress, as dozens of studies have found. Friends and family can protect you from new stressors, provide you with resources you need, guide your decisions and listen to your feelings. We need to share the burden by accepting help and asking for help in order to have a bridge out of our isolation.

Talking to loved ones is an important part of social support. Talking to others helps us to process the chaos of trying to cope with all the newness, to brainstorm new ways to cope and to see the bigger picture — how it all fits together. It is important that you not force yourself to talk before you are ready and that you talk to someone who is trustworthy and not likely to whip up the drama.

National change. The United States is about to go through some major changes in our government leadership and in our social fabric that promise to affect us all. Some of these changes are the result of the past catching up to us (the economy, the environment), and some will come from our asking for change by electing new leadership.

Just as our individual small-scale changes bring waves of stressful emotions, these large-scale changes will also be stressful as our greater social systems shift to work in new ways. It promises to be a bumpy ride.

These changes will be a test of who we are as a nation — the Real America. Can we really work together as a people rather than dissolve into conflict? Do we really have core values as a nation that will provide a center to guide us?

We talk a lot about peace, justice, individual rights and family values in this country. Whether we can discover what those really mean and stick to those during the roller-coaster ride of changes to come will determine how we come out of this time in our history.

Dr. Joanie Connors is a counseling psychologist who teaches at Western New Mexico University in Silver City. She specializes in relationship systems psychology. See her website at www.joanieconnors.com

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