7 Strategies For Coping With Change

By Kathie Mathis, Psy.D, CEO of California Cognitive Behavioral Institute

Change is inevitable. You’ll inherit new responsibilities at work, your marriage may go through trials and your roles in life will shift. Even positive changes – a promotion, birth/adoption or new home – can cause inner turmoil. From personal shifts to a changing political climate, adjusting to a new normal can be challenging. You may feel a mix of emotions ranging from joy to sadness and depression.

There is a potentially infinite number of emotions. It all depends on how we conceptualize what an emotion is. The practical answer is that there are as many emotions as you can name.

How many emotions we experience may be closely related to how many words we know and use to identify and label them. The richness of our emotional experience is related to how expansive our emotional vocabulary is. This means that it also depends on the language we speak and the culture with which we identify. Emotion words that exist in one language may not exist in another, and they often do not translate well.

So, on the one hand, our emotions bank can be unlimited, and on the other hand, it can be restricted by the emotion words we have access to. From your own experience, think about how frustrating it can be when you want to express how you feel but you can’t find a satisfying word.

With nearly every kind of change, stress is part of the equation. Trouble is, when you’re stressed, the pillars of healthy living – eating well, exercise, sleep and social time – tend to fall off your priority list. A better approach is to navigate tumultuous times with these six tips.

  1. Plan ahead. If you know change is on the horizon, do some prep work. Think about what you might do when an elderly parent falls ill. If your company has been through recent layoffs, consider how you’ll navigate a job change. Change is less stressful when you have a contingency plan in place.
  2. Reframe your thinking.Figure out what’s going on in your mind when you’re feeling sad and break negative patterns. Once you become aware of negative thoughts, you’re better equipped to shift them to emphasize the positive. For example, instead of “I don’t deserve this raise,” tweak the thought to “I worked hard for this recognition.”
  3. Take time to reflect. With today’s jam-packed schedules, most people don’t take time to mark or mourn what they’re losing before diving into something new. Rather than numb feelings of sadness with new distractions, overwhelming feelings due to stress and anxiety, give your thoughts a voice. Write in a journal, talk with a trusted friendor make an appointment with a therapist. You might even consider honoring the loss with a scrapbook, quilt, poem or painting.
  4. Ask friends to assess your relationships with them and how stress and change is affecting it.
  5. Strive to maintain some normalcy. Structure and routine are comforting, so the more you can maintain your tried-and-true routine in the midst of a change, the better off you’ll be. Go for your usual morning walk, visit the same coffee shop (if you can) and try to stick to your normal sleeping, waking and eating times.
  6. Create some comfort. Incorporate stress-relieving and enjoyable activities into your day. Listen to relaxing music, attend sound mediation, go to the gym or take a warm bath, do guided imagery. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it’s comforting to you – and healthy. Avoid quieting troubling emotions with unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, drinking and gambling. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
  7. Count your blessings. Reflect on how you managed change in the past effectively. What worked. What fears did you have and how did you manage them. You have gone through changes from birth to now and handled some better than others.  So count the blessings of growth, opportunity, moving forward, and empowerment in your life from embracing change in a positive way.

Change is universal. One can make a decision to plan for it and strategize ways to move into and through it, or one can feel helpless, stressed, fearful and hopeless. That is up to you.