We know the past few months have been hard. That’s the understatement, right?
Why are even small changes difficult? Moving is a large change, but what about schedule changes, time changes, Daylight Saving, or even transitions when you’re speaking or taking over control in a meeting.
These shifts are difficult because we develop comfort for consistency. When the consistency is taken away, we feel off-balance and experience anxiety. This anxious feeling when things change is because of the unknown: we have no idea what will happen next, and those possibilities are endless. What if this happens? What if that happens? All of these timelines, especially some of the worst-case ones, make things very difficult when accepting change and transitions.
Before diving into things you can do to work on that anxiety in the unknown, it’s important to know your stress response. You’ve probably heard of Fight or Flight, a theory from the 1920s that we experience a combative or a fleeing reaction during stress. Over the last 100 years, psychologists and physiologists have expanded that to include Freeze and Appease. If you’re uncertain of what you do during stressful moments of change, take a moment to think of the last time you experienced change-related stress. Did you:
Fight: Belabor the point, get combative and aggressive?
Flight: Retreat from the situation and back off?
Freeze: Go blank, blackout, and have nothing to say?
Appease: Start apologizing, smiling, or giggling?
When you know your stress response, you can move forward with working on those reactions.
Find the core
Once you know your stress response, start the going down the “what if” spiral. This might sound counter-intuitive, but hear me out: when you voice the possibilities, you can assign them meaning. For example:
You’re worried about looking for a new job. This is a career transition (and one that can be nerve-wracking!) and a change. Some “what ifs” might be:
I’ll never find a job.
I’ll never make enough money.
I’m not accomplished enough.
And so on. Looking at those what-ifs, are they grounded in reality? Are they things you have control of? Or are they anxious worries?
Now take some time to address that fear response from earlier – are you tapping into one of those when you think about those what ifs?
After you answer that question, think about your why. Why do you think, for example, that you aren’t accomplished enough? Truly answer that question, and not with a “because it is.” Give yourself some credit and dig into the core of your anxiety.
Stack the deck
Now that you might have a few answers about why you worry about change and transitions, step back and start stacking the deck in your favor. We worry about change and transitions because of the negative possibilities. Think about it: last time you were concerned, did you say, “Oh, wow, I’m super scared about this amazing and great thing that might happen!”
You worry about the negative! And that’s completely fine; I’m not insisting that you become an overly positive person. I’m asking for realism. If you’re going to name off five negative things that might happen, try to name as many positive things.
This is difficult, because negative things are just easier sometimes, because of a combination of self-esteem issues, nerves, imposter syndrome – and a history of negative things associated with change. You might have one major negative moment associated with change, and that’s all you can think of. Never mind all of the positive things that might have occurred with change: we sit in the negative.
If you’re dwelling in the negative and anxious, be sure to spend the same amount of time dwelling in the positive and possibilities. It’s only fair!
While this isn’t an exhaustive guide to dealing with change, it’s a start. Put yourself in the right mindset, right from the beginning.