We all know change is inevitable. There is a Japanese term I’m very fond of, it’s called Wabi-Sabi. It simply means, nothing is permanent, nothing is perfect, and nothing is finished.
Keeping that in mind, how do we cope with change in the best possible manner to grow rather than get paralysed by anxiety? How can we use change to our advantage?
Everyone has experienced some degree of change, especially over this last year with the pandemic. There have been losses and stress to contend with.
Change can be exciting, or it can be daunting, sometimes devastating. From major life changes like a change/loss of job, marriage, divorce, moving home or a pandemic to smaller changes like buying a new car, changing the furniture in your home or even cancelling a subscription to a magazine/journal, any change can bring about a variety of emotions that can either move you forward or keep you petrified with doubt.
Learn and grow and if it is a difficult time you are going through, remember that this too shall pass.
Change exposes our fears. Especially our fear of lack of control. We all want to feel a sense of control over our lives, but the truth is, there isn’t much we can do to have control over. When we understand this and be more accepting of change, we will find it easier to adapt and roll with the tides.
Attitudes that help
Accept change graciously: Change is an essential part of life. Welcome change: If you learn to internalise that change is inevitable you are less likely to be shocked and traumatised when it occurs. This does not mean you’re always waiting with bated breath for the other shoe to drop, which can be stressful in itself. It means you have a healthy acceptance of situations as they unfold.
Learn from change: There is much to be learnt as we move along in life. We can learn from it. Hone new skills, get a different perspective and make the best of it. Our brains are constantly rewiring as we think or do things differently. This ability of the brain, called neuroplasticity, can help us adapt better.
Focus on the positive but be aware of the negative: Every situation has both negatives and positives. While we need to be clear on the negative aspects of the changed situation (perhaps the new home you’ve moved into is further from your workplace), one needs to focus on the positive (it’s in a better neighbourhood and closer to school for your children).
Grow with change: There is always an opportunity for growth. If you seek out these opportunities, there will be growth. For instance, the end of a marriage or relationship, while devastating, may be an opportunity to explore your own individuality, get a new job, study more or move to a new city. It may be an opportunity for self-
exploration which was possibly stifled in a dysfunctional relationship.
Know that humans can be enormously resilient: Resilience, the ability to bounce back, withstand setback/change and be even better than before is a skill. Some people seem adept at it while others tend to tailspin easily when faced with challenges. Resilience however can be a learned skill. Have confidence in yourself that you can cope with whatever change that comes your way.
Thoughts that resist change
* This wonderful situation will never change
* My life will always stay this way
* All this is ‘mine’ and mine alone
* This is all I know and all I’m willing to know
* I’m too old to change
* I can’t think differently
* I’ve put all my eggs in this one basket. If I lose it, it’s the end of everything
* It’s too difficult
* I’m too comfortable in this situation. I cannot be comfortable in any other
* I cannot and will not do anything else
* I feel incapable of learning new skills
* I can’t do it on my own
* I feel so sorry for myself
* Life is unfair.
Have a growth mindset
Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford, talks about the ‘growth mindset’ in her book, Mindset: the new psychology of success. In it she states “In this mindset, the hand you’re dealt is just the starting point for development. This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.”
A growth mindset is essential when faced with change. When you have a fixed mindset instead you tend to avoid challenges, give up easily, see effort as futile, tend to ignore feedback if negative and feel threatened by the success of others.
Self-care during change
- Continue (or develop) practices that ground you: Practices like regular exercise should be continued through periods of change. It may be just an hour walk, but the fact that you are able to continue with a practice that you were used to, and you have control over, will ground you during times of change. If exercise is not something you practised regularly, this may even be a time to start. We all know exercise improves mood. A positive frame of mind will help enormously in shifting times
- Eat healthy: You may have a tendency to binge eat or eat junk food when anxious. Eating healthy, nutritious food at times like this will also keep you feeling good and the mental faculties sharp. Brain fog is common when you overload on refined carbs. Gaining weight is inevitable if you indulge often or eat mindlessly. All of this only adds to the discomfort of change.
- Connect socially: Stay connected with authentic relationships. Getting support from close family/friends is essential in times of change. This would mean putting in the effort to stay connected. Research has shown that strong social support reduces stress.
- Get enough sleep: It is common to lose sleep when anxious or troubled. Loss of sleep can also compromise thinking, make you depressed and cause overeating. Stay mindful: It’s easy to become overwhelmed and mindless during times of perceived stress. Practices like mindfulness meditation help enormously in this regard.
- Stay lighthearted: Sometimes it’s good to be able to laugh at a situation and see the humour in it. This obviously depends on the situation (you wouldn’t want to be humorous at a funeral for instance), but very often, when we look at the lighter side of life and don’t take ourselves too seriously, it gets easier to handle what comes along.
Change can be enormously challenging and gratifying depending on your perspective. The ability to adapt and grow instils a sense of confidence in us. Learn and grow and if it is a difficult time you are going through, remember that ‘this too shall pass’.
The author is a lifestyle medicine firstname.lastname@example.org