Coping with Change
Change affects us all at some point. We spent our lives going through constantly changing situations and adapting to them all at the same time. This starts the day we are born! Of course, there are times where not very much changes, and times where it seems nothing is stable.
At certain times, a big change or series of changes will happen that can leave us feeling blindsided. We get used to and comfortable with the status quo – it is familiar, safe, and secure. If that is changed in some way, we’re at risk of feeling unstable, scared and unsupported.
We’ve created this brief document to help guide you through the process of change. From problem solving to radical acceptance, we hope there will be something here that resonates with you and helps you make it through a transition that would otherwise be challenging.
Getting the News
Being told that something significant in your life is going to change can be daunting and overwhelming. The first step is to take a big step back from the news, to gather as much information as you can, and to think objectively about what this change actually means to you.
Research and Clarification
This means asking questions and doing some calm thinking about what will actually happen. You also need to separate that out from what you are worried will happen, or the worst case scenario. It might mean listening to other people, or it might mean actually disregarding what others are saying if you feel they are taking the news badly or being overly pessimistic.
The goal of this is to prepare expectations and maximise how much knowledge you have – to eliminate any fear of the unknown.
If you are not sure what the implications of this change might be, you may benefit from sitting down and doing a SWOT Analysis. Draw a cross and label each quadrant: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Fill each box with information relevant to the change you are analysing. Try to be as objective as possible, and stick to realistic points. Once written down like this, change can be much less scary, and you’re also better equipped to deal with any implications it has to your immediate future. You might also see a bunch of potential benefits which had felt hidden before!
Practical Self Care
Don’t forget the basics. Get enough sleep, eat healthily, avoid alcohol, schedule exercise and social time. Talk to friends and family about the change and what it means for you, seek community support. Spend time doing wholesome activities which bring you joy. Try not to get sucked into spirals or worry or pessimism and practise gratitude for what you do have and what is staying the same.
Try our self-care guide for basics on wellbeing, resilience and quick tips.
Evaluate Your Change Style
People tend to cope with change in one of two ways:
1. Escape coping.
This is a way of coping that involves avoiding the difficulties of change. It might be deliberately skipping a meeting, being late or not replying to emails. This type of coping only worsens the situation and delays the necessary confrontation. Using drugs or alcohol are ways of escape coping.
2. Control coping.
Control coping is a healthy and proactive approach. You take control of your feelings and behaviours, seek support and integrate yourself with the change process however you can.
Usually people use a mixture of both control and escape coping strategies. If you find yourself struggling to accept or deal with inevitable change, see if you can modify or move your coping style to one that is more control focussed.
Solve the Problems You Can Solve
If you sit back and let things happen around you without considering any way of intervening, you become a passive audience to the change and this might end with you feeling completely powerless. Take back control by focusing on your personal autonomy. What can you do to improve your situation, or the situation of people around you? You probably won’t be able to prevent the change from happening, but you could think of ways to make the process happen more smoothly, by volunteering to be part of a steering group, evaluating your own processes to see if they can be adapted to the new change, or offering support to others.
Focus on Small, Achievable Goals
Good goals are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. If things feel like they are too big or out of reach, focus on small wins to boost your confidence, enhance your sense of competence and contribute to the greater good. This could be anything from writing up meeting minutes to cooking dinner for your spouse.
Deal With Thoughts and Emotions
Of course, big change can come with a range of emotions. Anxiety, apprehension or even fear; perhaps anger and resentment toward the situation; and of course, positive emotions like excitement and relief.
If there are things about the change that impact you, and you have no way of preventing them, then you can exert autonomy over your own emotional responses and do what you can to ease any burden whilst maximising the positive potential.
Be in the Present
Practice mindfulness to help you see your current situation in a way that is on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgemental. You could try our mindful breathing exercise or any number of the mindful meditations you can find on YouTube. Big changes and other drastic events can bring up lots of emotions from the past and worries about the future, but realistically all we need to focus on is the situation right now. Try to bring yourself to the present moment and release emotional baggage.
Analyse Negative Thought Patterns
Use our 3-Step Thinking Hack Pack to consider how your thoughts shape your emotions and behaviour. It might be useful to keep a thought diary, where you consciously consider your thoughts and write them down to analyse them.
You might find you are magnifying the significance of the change, or catastrophizing all the things that could possibly go wrong, causing unnecessary stress and anxiety. Or you might be personalising and seeing the change as your fault when it is objectively not. Only in analysing these thoughts can you begin to actively replace them with healthier, more productive thoughts that reduce negative emotions and help you cope better with the change.
Learn to Let Go
Often when a big change comes, there is a significant part of it that you have no control over. Even focusing on small goals and even when participating fully in the change, to the best of your ability, there is still a big part of it that you have nothing to do with. This can be frustrating, but it is normal and okay.
Let go of what you cannot change by simply allowing it to be. If you feel resentful or angry about the situation, allow yourself to feel that and then simply release it. Imagine those feelings floating into a cloud and then getting blown away with the breeze. It might be difficult at first but you’ll feel more positive and optimistic if you are not dwelling on negative feelings.
Use Positive Coping Skills
Humour is actually an evidence-based therapeutic technique! It’s a healthy and mature way of reframing a situation to make it much easier to handle. This coping mechanism helps to change the way you think about your circumstances, and also makes you a more pleasant person to be around (within reason). That’s not to say that everything has to be hilarious – but it certainly has a time and place. In fact, laughing releases happy chemicals that can aid in stress relief and recovery.
This is a posh way of saying, “Look at the situation in a different way”. It’s kind of like when someone gets bad news, and they say, “Well – every cloud has a silver lining”. It means that even though the news was bad, there is always some good to find in it (much like the silver sunlight peeking out from behind a raincloud). Next time you find yourself grumbling about something or upset that a situation didn’t go your way – take a step back and instead of thinking about what went wrong, write down three things that are good about what has happened. It’s a powerful way of changing your mood and helping you to be a more optimistic person.
We all have thoughts, feelings and impulses that are not socially acceptable. Whether it be rage or sex or something else, this is human nature, and it is how we deal with it that matters. Sublimation is a descriptor for dealing with unacceptable impulses using an acceptable behaviour. The classic example is an angry person playing rugby. The physicality of the sport allows him to channel the rage he feels without it being destructive to him or others.
Take the time at the end of every day to jot down three positive things. They could be what you were grateful for, your personal achievements, nice things people said, funny events or even that you saw a cute doggo on your facebook feed. This is another quick and easy way to feel more optimistic, and mold your outlook so it is positive. You don’t even need to go and buy a journal – there are plenty of apps that will send you push notifications to remind you.
Accept and Move On
Ultimately there will be a point where the change is inevitable or has already occurred, and you need to make peace with that and live your new life.
Practice Radical Acceptance
A part of letting go of resentment is actively accepting the change. Radical acceptance is a process whereby we actively choose to accept reality even when it is not what we want, or causes us pain. If you cannot change it, then there is no point in allowing yourself to feel distressed or resentful towards it – the only person who suffers there is you, and the situation will continue to happen regardless of how you feel about it.
Additional Resources from CheckPoint:
- Remember to be aware of and actively manage any symptoms of mental health conditions.
- Try our free mental health resources.
- Play one of the video games our community recommends for wellbeing.
- Purchase a digital Coping Companion.
- Join our community server for pro-mental health gaming and peer support.