Do you often find yourself moaning “I hate change?” And then doing what you can to avoid rocking the boat? All the while believing that one day in the future you’ll suddenly get over it, learn to be brave, and that’s when you’ll finally make that move to the country, or apply for that better job, or whatever it is you mean to do?
You might end up waiting a very, very long time for the day to come you won’t feel fear and anxiety about changes in your life. The truth is that change by its very nature is a stressor (read more about this in our article on why we all fear change).
People who deal with change successfully don’t report that they no longer feel fearful with new decisions. On the contrary…
Successful people report that they feel even more fear then ever when dealing with big changes. The only difference is that they have learned to accept change and work with it instead of against it.
10 Ways to Work With Changes in Your Life Instead of Against Them
1. Get honest about how you feel.
Change makes the best of us feel off kilter, and it’s down to biology. Our bodies are still on caveman programming, which means that any stress, like changes in our lives, more often then not triggers our fight and flight response. This can cause an elevated heart rate and sense of danger (an outdated sense of danger, as we are no longer running from wild animals, but there you go).
Denying we feel afraid (and also anxious, overwhelmed, sad, and weak) doesn’t make the feelings go away. Left ignored, these negative emotions instead tend to grow. But turn and face them, and it’s like throwing water over the Wicked Witch of the West…. it starts the shrinking process. Therapy is of course a great environment to do just this. But number two offers another way to start exposing your true feelings on what is going on for you.
2. Don’t think, write.
Left to its own devices, the mind will turn thoughts over endlessly and also rather furtively, so you might not realise you have a loop of negative thoughts and anxieties on replay. And if you aren’t even sure what precisely your feelings and worries are, how can you manage them?
Writing, in the form of free flowing journalling, forces the mind to quit playing hide and seek and instead show its cards. Writing is remarkably affective for getting clear on what you are really feeling about what’s changing for you, and also for gaining perspective.
If you need to encourage your unconscious mind to relax onto the page, set the intention to rip up anything you write afterwards and not keep it or show it to anyone, and to not judge yourself for whatever comes out. In fact how about encouraging the negative?
3. Embrace the power of negative thinking
We’re mostly trained to think positively these days. But one useful way you can use writing is by having a timed ‘negativity dump’.
Set a timer for five or ten minutes, and allow yourself to write out whatever crazy thing comes, no matter how angry, childish, wild, or illogical, or if it comes out in big, scrawled letters. Again, promise yourself you’ll rip it up after so that you can feel safe and free. Amazingly, despite all the focus on being positive these days, negative thinking in this way can be very powerful – like spring cleaning the mind. You might even find that you can’t do a full ten minutes before feeling clearer and better. Or, you might find you end up having a good cry at the end, nothing wrong with that either.
Not one for writing? You can also do a ‘negativity dump’ out loud with a trusted friend, otherwise known as a ‘negativity rant’, as long as they promise to only listen and nod and not give any advice, and you give them a turn after.
4. Go for the worse case scenario.
Often when we are panicking over an impending change in our lives, it’s because our mind has gone onto a diet of black and white thinking. We start to think in extremes, only seeing that things can end up really good, or really bad. And yet life is rarely so cut and dried but tends to be shades of grey.
It can help to really look consciously at the very worst thing that you assume can happen. Talk it through with someone in full detail. Then ask yourself, could you live with that? Would it destroy you as much as you think? And how realistic is it that worst case scenario would happen? Often this process of actually facing our worst fear instead of incessantly thinking around it suddenly opens a door in our mind to all the other possibilities we’ve overlooked.
5. Hang out with people who actually like change.
Birds of a feather might flock together but humans even more so. And if we are resisting change, one of the things we might do without realising it is surround ourselves with others who also hate a shakeup and symathise or even support us with not going forward with things. Try to spend time around people who work with change or have come through change recently.
Don’t know anyone? Look around for a social group of people who are change makers, whether that is entrepreneurs, social activists, or even an ex-pat group who have been brave enough to leave their home country, and see what kind of inspiration you find (meetup.com can be helpful if you don’t know where to look).
6. Put fear under a microscope.
The feelings that comes with big life changes can be so overwhelming you don’t even question that what you are experiencing must be fear.
But is it?
Start noticing when you are apparently feeling ‘fear’. Ask yourself, is this fear, or is it just my body doing ‘fight or flight’ mode? My heart might be racing, but are my thoughts ones of fear? Is this fear, or is this just a kind of intense excitement because I am pushing my boundaries and expanding my comfort zone?
You might find that you are less afraid then you think, and even if you just find that 20% of the times you assumed you were feeling fear it is really excitement, then that is a great improvement.
7. Separate change from expectations.
Often we think we are afraid of change but what we are really afraid of is what others might expect from us if that impending change actually happens. For example, maybe you know your boss wants you to apply for a higher position within your company, and you think you are afraid of the job, when really you are worried about your boss expecting greater things from you and you then letting her down.
Write down what the change is you are facing, then what the expectations you worry others would have of you. If you took out those expectations, how afraid of the change are you now? And on a scale of 1 to 10, how realistic is it that people will expect the things you’ve thought of? Will they not understand you need time to adjust?
8. Be selective with sharing your stress.
The first thing many of us do when faced with a life change is start to talk. And talk, and talk. To anyone who will listen. Soon we have worked ourselves into a sort of ‘stress sweat’ about it, full of extreme thoughts that we didn’t even originally have.
Another side effect of talking too much about what we are going through is that we can be given so much well meaning-advice that we don’t even know what we ourselves think about the situation anymore.
It pays to be selective about who you talk to about your worries. Ask yourself, does this person know how to handle life change well? Do they know how to listen, or do I already know just what they are going to say?
And consider sharing your stress with a professional instead. A counsellor or psychotherapist is trained to help you find your own best answers, and can also offer an entirely new perspective outside of your social circle. They are also versed at helping people manage change effectively.
Some people think seeing a therapist is ‘too expensive’. But given how many years we can take dawdling over making decisions and avoiding change, a therapist, as someone who can give you the confidence and clarity to move forward much more quickly, can be a very reasonable investment indeed.
9. Be mindful.
Change tends to throw all our thoughts in two directions – the past (it didn’t work out then, why would it now) and the future (this could happen, and that, and what would I do…). The result? We entirely miss the present, where action and answers really lie.
Mindfulness, a present moment awareness that is gaining steam including within psychotherapy circles, is a great way to manage change and stress by bringing you into the now. Try a two-minute mindfulness exercise now to get a sense of how it works.
10. Keep practising.
It’s that old expression, ‘if you can’t go over it, and you can’t go around it, then just go through it’. The more you keep leaning in to change instead of running from it, the more of a successful ‘change navigator’ you’ll be. Until, one day, you might even crave change and all the nerves and panic it brings, knowing that good things indeed come after the storm.
Do you have special ways for managing change? Or a funny story of how far you have gone to avoid change? Share it below, we love to hear from you!