Coping with Change

“Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life”  – Benjamin Franklin

Change is about being in a period of transition – when our current situation is shifting into something different than what our reality is today, when something that is new is taking shape - that’s when we know we are experiencing change.

The tricky thing about change is sometimes we don’t recognize it as change because:

  • Change can take many forms & affect every part of our lives (family, work, social)
  • Change can be good or bad depending on the person and the situation
  • Change may be sought out or forced upon you
  • Change can be sudden or a longer process
  • Change can make you feel excited or make you feel anxious and threatened
  • Too little change can make life boring but too much change can be overwhelming

We are creatures of habit. We have attachment to familiarity; we crave certainty so much that we will often times go back to things that don’t make us feel good or positive because familiarity can be more comfortable than change! 

There are generally two types of ways with deal with change:

Escape coping is based on avoidance. You take deliberate actions to avoid the difficulties of an impending change. For instance, you might deliberately not pick up the phone from your landlord because you know you missed rent and that could mean a change in your living status, or you skip out on some training at work because you know its going to result in being asked to change how you do your job.   Some people even take refuge in alcohol or drugs to escape through numbing emotions

Control coping, on the other hand, is positive and proactive. You don’t let the change control you, but rather you take CHARGE of the change by managing your feelings, get support, and do whatever you can to be part of the change.

Generally we experience a mixture of both. Because when we go through change its not a linear or black and white process.

Ok, so lets talk a little bit about the EMOTIONS involved in dealing with change.

Swiss Physiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined a model that walks through the emotions that we might experience when dealing with change.

SHOCK / DENIAL: Generally we start in the shock stage, then move into denial (shock and denial can sometimes happen simultaneously). It’s a defense mechanism that buffers us from the immediate feelings of change

FRUSTRATION: We then move into feelings of frustration where you recognize that things are different. This can also bring about feelings of anger.

DEPRESSION: Next we go through a period of depression and low moods; here we may start to feel emotions play out in physical forms such as experiencing a lack of energy or experiencing mood swing.

EXPERIMENT: The next stage is called Experiment because its when we start to test the waters of new normal; for example wearing masks during COVID and see what that was like

DECISION: at this stage you start to feel to more positive about being able to handle the change, it starts to become familiar and you learn to adapt in the new situation or new normal.

INTEGRATION: and finally, the change becomes the norm and you feel comfortable with the current situation.

The next time you are going through a challenging time, ask yourself if you might be experiencing change. If the answer is yes, you will be in a better position on how to handle it.