Change is inevitable, but discomfort doesn’t have to be.
A six-letter word that generates intense feelings for many people. Some do everything in their power to avoid it, and others chase it at the expense of meaningful connections and stability.
As the saying goes, the only thing constant in life is change. Part of being a well-functioning human is learning to accept transitions and develop healthy coping mechanisms. This doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it since there are a lot of circumstances when change is far from fun, (i.e. breakups, deaths, friends moving away, etc.).
But learning how to regulate your emotions and remain grounded throughout change is key. Your amygdala, the part of your brain that controls our flight or fight response, is a big part of the equation. People who are afraid of change lean toward a fight response during transitions while those who chase change default to a flight response. People who handle change well understand how to calm their flight or fight response.
For those afraid of change (Fight)
Whether change creeps in slowly, (like your knees starting to ache as you age) or drops out of nowhere (like an unexpected layoff), it disrupts your routine, forces you out of your comfort zone, and can fill you with anxiety. How will you ever cope with this change? What is your worth if you got laid off/can’t run a sub-9-minute mile anymore/got divorced, etc. etc. etc.?
People who fear change will often stay in bad situations like jobs or relationships, to their detriment. It’s where the saying, “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t,” comes from. This idea that while the current situation is bad, it’s not as bad as it could be.
But that’s not always true, in fact, most of the time it’s dead wrong.
For those afraid of change, it’s important to spend time understanding and acknowledging your negative feelings about transitions. Get real with yourself. Are you scared? Do you feel like you lack control? These are completely normal reactions. Let yourself feel your feelings.
Another thing to realize is that while you can’t control change, you can control how you react to it.
Instead of avoiding change, experiment with coping methods like journaling, meditating, and talking with friends and family.
For those who chase change (Flight)
There are plenty of folks who enjoy travelling to new places; the challenge of a new job, and the excitement of a first date, and then there are the people who can’t commit to a relationship, job, or group of friends. They’re constantly looking for the rush of something new or running away to avoid uncomfortable feelings and vulnerability.
Seeking change is a way to hide in plain sight. You might find yourself wishing you could develop relationships or put down roots, but when push comes to shove, you run to the next thing.
The next time you feel the urge to change things up, take a deep look at your motivations. What are you scared of? Are you really in need of a transition or are you avoiding something? A deeper understanding of yourself will help you discern when you are really in need of a change and when you need to stay put and work through your feelings.
How to accept change and thrive through transitions
People who handle change well aren’t born that way; they do a lot of work to come to terms with transitions. Many of them share common traits and modes of thinking.
- Allowing grace: Change is hard. Even positive transitions; like a new relationship, a promotion at work, or moving into a new apartment, can cause anxiety. People who deal with these transformations best understand that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed. They don’t bottle up their emotions but instead find ways to work through them. They allow themselves grace during these periods and understand that soon things will feel more normal.
- Finding the positive: During periods of change, it’s tempting to spiral into negative self-talk. Why is this happening to me? Why don’t have any control? Why aren’t I better/richer/smarter/younger? Find gentle ways to reframe your thinking. Challenge yourself to find the silver lining. This doesn’t mean you should become toxically positive about a challenging situation but rather look for something good among all the tough emotions, understanding both good and bad can exist in tandem.
- Understanding their triggers: This is a big one. Change comes in many forms, and as such, some transitions may impact you more than others. Breaking up with someone may not impact you as much as losing your dream job. Or maybe a change in your health is easy to manage while a friend moving away sends you into a depression. Understanding the types of changes that impact you the most will help you develop the correct coping mechanisms for different occasions.
- Believing their worth: It’s easy to connect your self-worth to your job, your youth, or your relationships, but your importance as a person is immutable. It doesn’t rely on any outside forces. Understanding this — or how to remind yourself of this — is key to thriving in change. Transitions can’t be controlled. They happen when they happen to who they happen to, and there’s nothing any of us can do to stop many of them. People who remain grounded during change understand that their worth is constant no matter what’s happening outside themselves.
When you are next confronted by change in your life, try to greet it like an old friend. Remember change is constant, but it but discomfort doesn’t have to be.