Are you a doctor in between one role or stage in life and the next role or stage? Do you feel like you are in the wrong role or on the wrong path for you and that you are yearning to be somewhere else yet don’t know where? Then you are in a liminal space.
Liminal comes from the Latin root “limen” which means “threshold”. A liminal space is a transitional time when we are on the cusp between two ways of being. The time between “what was” and “next “, between the familiar and the unknown. We may have left one role behind and haven’t quite settled into another. Changing jobs on your rotation, moving from Foundation doctor status to Registrar, from Registrar to GP or Consultant, moving cities or from the change involved in being an adult to becoming a parent.
In all of these we are standing on the threshold of an unknown future. Uncertainty can be unsettling as it activates our flight or fight response as it is a modern-day threat to our wellbeing. The future that awaits us is not fully defined and we’re not completely sure of what is ahead.
Most people feel overwhelmed, confused, and uncomfortable when they are going through a major life change. Being in limbo in a liminal space is uncomfortable.
Periods of uncertainty and change are inevitable so having a toolbox of coping strategies at the ready is helpful. Like any skill, the key is to practice them daily so that when you need to use them, they come intuitively to you.
How can you use this time in your liminal space to find grounding amidst uncertainty and the change you are going through?
1 Apply your mind.
Uncertainty feels unsafe, so often we opt to stay in bad situations to avoid it. Recognise this to help you embrace uncertainty and acknowledge and name the emotions you feel.
Use your mind to employ soothing self-talk. This time calls for more self-compassion and more self-kindness too. Reassure yourself and acknowledge that better times will come and that this too shall pass. Avoid catastrophising if you can- our brain has a negativity bias and imagining negative outcomes activates our fight or flight response, reducing our rational thought processes. What stories are you telling yourself in your head? Remember that your thoughts are not truth and are not calls to action.
It is tempting to get even more busy to distract ourselves. We may also get “overthinky” and do some cognitive bypassing. This is when we overthink to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions like sadness, fear, or anger. It’s best to acknowledge our emotions. Ignoring them or packing them down only amplifies them and they will leak out in future at a time when you least expect it.
Practicing gratitude or being creative (in whatever way you like- gardening, cooking, art, needlework, anything crafty) is a great way to boost your wellbeing and ground you too.
2 Move your body.
Activities such as yoga, Pilates, running and walking in our daily routine help the body feel more grounded and supported during challenging times. A sense of ease in our bodies can facilitate psychological grounding when we feel mentally or emotionally scattered with a “spaghetti mind”. Do what exercise makes you feel good, and what nourishes you and your wellbeing.
It is best to carry on with your normal daily routine (humans thrive on structure and routine especially at times of change and uncertainty) and spend some time thinking. Journaling is a great way to process and understand what is going on for you.
3 Listen to your heart.
As our brains have a negativity bias, we are used to using our imaginations to have a tendency to catastrophise. Instead, contemplate what would make your heart sing? Place your hands on your heart, breathe deeply and focus on a dream for yourself, your loved ones, your community or the world. From this place, what feels possible now? Ask yourself what dreams lift your heart and give yourself permission to give yourself some time and space to dwell in enough uncertainty that the impossible feels imaginable.
Whatever the cause of you being in limbo, acknowledgement and acceptance of your situation will empower you to make the best of it.
“What am I most proud of in the way that I am handling this situation?” and
“What would it mean to me to know that I am doing the best I can, with the resources I have right now?”
Notice how your answers help you to be kinder and more compassionate to yourself and help you to keep moving forward to what matters to you.