Tools for Life: Coping with Change

  • Published
  • By Amy Kemp-Wellmeier
  • 908th Airlift Wing

At one point or another, we have all had to adjust to changes occurring in our lives. Some changes are planned and others may be unexpected. Periods of transitions are frequently times of high stress and can be overwhelming.  People often describe experiencing high anxiety, stress, feelings of sadness and loss, and difficulty letting go when going through changes in their lives. Such changes may include moving, changing jobs, graduating and joining the work force, having a child, sudden illness, death of a loved one, ending a relationship, or entering retirement, for example. Life transitions often come with a lot of uncertainty and unease, even if it is a positive, exciting, and planned change. The process of growth, be it emotional, professional, relational, or developmental, is a necessary process of letting go in order to evolve. Learning to cope with periods of transition can help to minimize stress, to grow emotionally, and to develop self-efficacy and trust in our abilities to thrive. Here are some ideas to help you flourish as you navigate transitions in your life:

Acceptance of the change:  Whether it was something we have been looking forward to or something unexpected, if we resist the change then it will lead to increased distress, anxiety, overwhelm, and feelings of loss of control. However, if we can accept what is unfolding, then we can let go of what once was and lean into the opportunities that come with the unknown.

Creating space for reflection: Finding time to allow ourselves to reflect and emotionally process the transition can help us to understand what we are thinking, feeling, and possibly fearing. This can be done in several ways – journaling, mindfulness practice, talking to a trusted friend/family member, or seeking support from a therapist.

Focusing on the now: By bringing our awareness to moment to moment experiences, it allows us to shift our focus from what is out of our control to what is within our control in any given moment. This creates the opportunity to shift our attention to a more positive outlook rather than drowning in the negative thinking. Focusing our energy on what we can realistically do in a day rather than all that we still have to do to manage the upcoming changes can help to minimize unease and the feeling of chaos.

Engaging in regular self-care: It may seem like the worst time to interrupt our busy schedules when so much change is happening. However, ensuring that we allow ourselves the time to engage in self-care and time to relax during difficult times is proven to help combat stress, anxiety, negative thinking, and low mood. It helps to recharge our minds and bodies, which then allows us to be more positive and effective in handling the transition period that we are in. Self-care strategies include healthy eating habits, regular exercise, maintaining sleep hygiene, taking long baths, spending quality time with friends or loved ones, opportunities to play, getting a massage, or meditation to name a few.

Finding new meaning: For many of us, struggling with an unplanned life change can create feelings of loss/ grief, anger, and a general sense of mistrust in what we once “knew for sure”. However, if we can engage in a process of attaching new meaning to a given situation, it allows us to cultivate trust in ourselves again and in the unknown. Some ways to help in finding meaning through difficult or painful times is to surround ourselves with loved ones, appreciating the positive relationships that we have in our lives, thinking about our goals and ambitions, and reflecting on how we view our lives being different given the changes. We can also reflect upon our values and how we might navigate this transition in a way that remains true to these values. These strategies can help to transform an overwhelming change into an empowering growth experience.