Are you currently going through a time of change? A new job, starting university, getting married, buying a house, or living away from home for the first time?
This change may be obvious, subtle, unwanted or well-planned.
It's possible that you're experiencing stress regardless of whether it's a negative or positive change. Just how much stress depends on how you react to it.
So, what's the trick for overcoming change? Here are some tips to help you through.
Acknowledge things are changing
Many of us are instinctively resistant to change, at least initially. This instinct has no bearing on the likelihood of a good or bad outcome, it's simply a typical human response to something different.
Sometimes we become so focused on fighting change, we put off dealing with it. Denial is a protective factor, however facing change and being proactive can be less stressful than putting it off.
By acknowledging the changes you're experiencing and giving yourself permission to feel, you may relieve some of the pressure you're facing.
Keep a journal
It can be difficult to step back and get perspective when surrounded by change.
Journaling can help by:
- Providing a broad view of the situation. Allowing us to evaluate our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and the actions available.
- Decreasing the intensity of stress. Making us feel calmer and able to focus on the present.
- Offering a safe environment where we can process change without fear.
- Removing mental blocks. Engaging creativity and intuition can help us see opportunities, brainstorm new ideas, or create unexpected solutions.
- Breaking down complex experiences into relevant, useful bits of information.
- Building better habits through self-reflection. Utilising skills or strategies used previously helps us cope with current changes and any experiences in the future.
- Identifying helpful or unhelpful patterns in your mood. The Black Dog Daily Mood Chart can help.
- Compelling us to write down any positives that came from change.
The University of Rochester Medical Centre has useful information on journaling for mental health.
Consider how much you can control
Determining what or how much control you actually have over change can help put things into perspective and relieve stress.
What can you do to make the transition easier? Sometimes change is beyond our control. Accepting this and being comfortable with it can bring greater relief than fighting against the tide. Change may be an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than a setback.
Acknowledge your feelings
We can expect internal resistance to change, especially when the change is imposed or beyond our control. But facing our feelings can help.
It can allow us address negative self-talk such as, 'why me?', 'but I don't want to!' and 'it isn't fair!'. We can then develop a plan and focus on our positive emotions.
We are never stuck with just one feeling. You may feel afraid and optimistic and excited about the same circumstances. Common emotions include:
Most people like predictability and routine, and when that is challenged it can be stressful and distressing.
We can still feel significant stress or dread from a positive life change. This is your body's natural response, our way of adapting.
Particularly when the change is unplanned.
Change can be intimidating or frightening as we are facing something new and unfamiliar. Particularly if it is an unwelcome change.
Change always involves a loss — even when transitioning to something better. It's okay to grieve and take care of your feelings.
Depression and anxiety
If change is unexpected and unwanted, it can magnify the feeling of depression and anxiety.
If you're well informed, it may be easier to face the change and know what to expect.
Education is empowering. If you are moving, learn about services in your new neighbourhood. If you are attending university, read up on the campus facilities. If you're starting a new job, talk to HR or management about the workplace culture and programs available.
If you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, try to learn as much as you can about your symptoms, the health services available in your new setting, or plan for alternative arrangements if you feel you may lose access to existing supports.
Consider all possible outcomes
Take time to consider all the possible outcomes, decide what would be your best and worst-case scenarios, and then:
If unwanted change is within your control, take an active approach to dealing with it.
Try drawing up a plan of how you are going to cope and deal with any immediate problems.
Goals help us proactively address any challenges. We can focus on the problem, develop a plan of action and consciously guide the change where possible.
Break it up
Large problems will seem less insurmountable when divided into little ones. Work on them one at a time.
Try to view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Look at the big picture and focus on the positive aspects of change.
Create a plan
Try to create a plan for how you will approach the new situation.
Reflect on past change
Consider the last time you were faced with a big change or unwelcome news, and how you got through it. Reflect on how daunting it felt, and the strategies and skills you used.
Expect new patterns to take time
Habits and routines can be affected by change. It is fair to expect that any change will take time to adjust to. Going slowly can be a helpful strategy for coping.
Try to limit the amount of change you face at once. Adjusting to change can take time and multiple changes, even smaller ones, cause added stress and may restrict the time you have to adjust.
Keep a regular schedule and seek familiar comforts. Having some things stay the same provides an anchor. Familiar places, people, things or activities – help remind us not everything is changing.
The best way to manage stress is to take care of our physical and emotional needs.
For ideas check out:
Change can be overwhelming and it is important to seek support. Speak to family and friends. Let them know what kind of support you need. Talk with others with a similar experience, such as support groups, SANE's online Forums, or speak with a mental health professional.
Other resources include: