Now more than ever, we are facing changes that may be hard to swallow.
The reality is this: Coping with change can be hard. In fact, many people spend their lives trying to avoid it. Sometimes we have a lot of time to prepare, as we know a change is coming, but it can also happen suddenly and catch us off guard. The one inevitable truth is that change will catch up to you. At some point, we will all have to deal with it, whether it is a major disappointment or a wonderful surprise. If you can learn to cope, you will lower your risk for anxiety and depression and feel more resilient as you move through life.
Here are some healthy ways you can shift the way you think about change:
1. Evaluate your level of control
Inevitably, there are always going to be events or even people that we will have no power to change. As a therapist, I work with clients on changing their own attitudes or beliefs because the reality is, we can’t always—and actually, it is very rare that we can—change other people. When you look at your level of control, it can help determine what you do next. If you can control it, then you can start to plan and figure out how this change is going to enhance your life, and what you need to do to make yourself successful. If you don’t have any control over it, take time to grieve. It is OK to feel sad, acknowledge that it is a loss, and seek out support. Then focus on some of the other healthy practices below.
2. Focus on what you can control
Can you make a suggestion to your boss or change the way you react when arguing with a family member? Focusing on what you can control helps you feel more empowered. By focusing on changing your own behavior, you can help alter the feedback loops when engaging with other people. Think about the example of arguing with your mom; your arguments probably often go the same way every time. If you can change one thing that you do, it can have an effect on the entire cycle of the interaction.
3. Do your best to stay in the present
It is easy to begin catastrophizing the situation and immediately imagining the worst-case scenario. For example, if your dog is lost, you may immediately think he has run into the road, been hit by a car, and you will never see him again. The reality is that your dog is missing. If you engage in catastrophizing, you often become paralyzed because you may get upset and feel overwhelmed, hindering your ability to do anything to help. If you remain focused on the reality, you can go into problem solving mode. If you are able to stay calm, you can look at the situation for what it is.
4. Acknowledge that things are changing
It is common for people to be in denial about change. Denial is real, and powerful, and while it sometimes acts as a protector, it can prevent us from taking action. If the reality is that things are changing, whether you like it or not, you need to start taking action on how to best adapt to the change. Focus on figuring out what you need to do in order to make it manageable for you.
5. Prioritize self-care
Even the good changes—the ones we want—can cause stress. Engaging in self-care strategies can help you manage your stress. For some people, this might include exercising, talking to a friend, or sitting down to read a book. No matter what it is that makes you feel good, it is important to take care of yourself when you are confronted with a big change.
6. Focus on positive thinking
Write down positive things that might come from this change. Maybe you will get to spend more time with your family. Maybe you will have more time to exercise, or you will save money by living at home. Your list might include hypothetical situations, but in order for this to be effective, make sure you have a few that are concrete and realistic too. Think about times in the past that you have been successful with change. What did you do in order to manage both the change itself and your feelings about it? Take comfort in knowing that you have adapted to change in the past and that you will do so again.
If you have control over it, try not to change too many things at once. As I mentioned before, any change causes stress on your body. If you are forced to make a change, try to keep some of your other habits or routines in place to help you feel calmer and increase your feeling of control. Then when you get used to the “new-normal” you can ease into more changes. Above all, remember that you are resilient, and you will make it through this change. So, reflect on what is happening, reassess the situation, employ these strategies to manage change, and remember this quote by professor and motivational speaker Leo F. Buscaglia: “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”