How To Handle Change

Let me start by saying that I hate change.  I admit it.  I own it.  Change scares me and triggers all my insecurities.  I avoid the unknown at almost any cost (insert need for a plan and control).  But as this year has harshly and dramatically thrust my life in to upheaval and change I’ve decided to learn and grow as much as possible from it instead of trying to control it or avoid it (insert a very big work in progress so please be patient).  Here’s what I’ve learned so far…change is an unavoidable constant in our lives. Sometimes it’s within our control, but most often it’s not. Our circumstances change, the people in our lives change, we ourselves change.  It can be exhilarating for some and terrifying for others.Fortunately, there are ways to adapt to change, and even to take advantage of it.  Here is a compilation of strategies I’ve researched to help deal with change better.

Accept the past, but fight for the future. Even though we are never free from change, we are always free to decide how we respond to it.

Viktor Frankl championed this idea after returning home from three horrific years in Nazi death camps. He discovered that his mother, brother, wife, and unborn child were all dead. Everything in his life had changed. All that he loved was lost. But as fall became winter and winter gave way to spring, Frankl began to discover that even though he could never go back to the life he once had, he was still free to meet new friends, find new love, become a father again, work with new patients, enjoy music, and read books. Frankl called his hope in the face of despair “tragic optimism.”

Frankl’s story is an extreme example, of course, but that’s all the more reason why we should find inspiration from it. If we fixate on the limitations of a specific change, we inevitably succumb to worry, bitterness, and despair.

Instead, we should choose to accept the fact that change happens, and employ our freedom to decide what to do next.  I know, much easier said than done!  But I’m working on it.

Don’t stress out about stressing out. Our beliefs about stress matter. As Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal argues in The Upside of Stress, your reaction to stress has a greater impact on your health and success than the stress itself. If you believe stress kills you, it will. If you believe stress is trying to carry you over a big obstacle or through a challenging situation, you’ll become more resilient and may even live longer.

When you start to feel stressed, ask yourself what your stress is trying to help you accomplish. Is stress trying to help you excel at an important task, like a sales presentation or a big interview? Is it trying to help you endure a period of tough market conditions or a temporary shift in your organizational structure? Is it trying to help you empathize with a colleague or a customer? Or is stress trying to help you successfully exit a toxic situation?

Stress can be a good thing— if you choose to see it that way.

Talk about problems more than feelings. One of the most common myth of coping with unwanted changes is the idea that we can “work through” our anger, fears, and frustrations by talking about them a lot. This isn’t always the case. In fact, research shows that actively and repeatedly broadcasting negative emotions hinders our natural adaptation processes.

That’s not to say you should just “suck it up” or ignore your troubles. Instead, call out your anxiety or your anger at the outset of a disorienting change so that you are aware of how it might distort your thinking or disrupt your relationships. Then look for practical advice about what to do next. By doing so, you’ll zero in on the problems you can solve, instead of lamenting the ones you can’t.

Focus on your values instead of your fears. Reminding ourselves of what’s important to us — family, friends, our faith, hobbies, etc.— can create a surprisingly powerful buffer against whatever troubles may be ailing us.

In a series of studies spanning more than a decade, researchers led by Geoffrey Cohen and David Sherman have shown how people of all ages in a range of circumstances, from new schools and new relationships to new jobs, can strengthen their minds with a simple exercise: spending 10 minutes writing about a time when a particular value you hold has positively affected you.  I just started this yesterday and I have hope it will help.  Here’s why.

The technique is said to work because reflecting on a personal value helps us rise above the immediate threat and makes us realize that our personal identity can’t be compromised by one (or many) challenging situation.

We’ve all heard it said that the only constant in life is change.  I believe it’s true.  Let’s try to embrace some changes this year instead of avoiding them.

We understand that this sounds simple but it’s not easy.  We are always here to help.  Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions for us!  Give us a call at (562) 537-2947.  

Written by Lisa Smith