Effective Options to Cope with Change
Experience and the literature inform us that transitions or changes in life are inevitable and you can fight them, flee from them or preferably accept that you need to prepare for and adapt to the changes in some way. Having confidence in being able to plan for and adapt to change, by having skills and knowledge that you know will work, by building resilience so that you have the emotional strength to problem solve and make decisions is certainly important. Being proactive rather than reactive to change means that it is you that is in charge and you prevent becoming a victim of change.
Some tips to help cope with change include the following:
Try to anticipate change — identifying factors leading to change and planning for change requires flexibility of mind not rigidity. Davey (1992) cited in Dadds, Seinen, Roth & Harnett’s (2000: 15) work titled ‘Early intervention for anxiety disorders in children and adolescents’ stated:
‘Outcome expectancy models of anxiety postulate that humans develop an expectation of outcome based on a variety of sources of information and existing beliefs? Hence, existing beliefs in highly anxious persons tend to lead to an overestimation of threat and an underestimation of coping resources.’ Having a clearer informed knowledge of change and what it may really entail can help to prevent exaggeration of the nature and consequences of change or transition.
You need to maintain friendships and social networks, to maintain or develop new interests and activities to stop you from stagnating, and accept new challenges armed with confidence, skills and knowledge.
Care for your physical and emotional health — you need strength of body and mind to meet the challenges involved in change or transition. Regular exercise, a good balanced and nutritious diet, quality sleep and relaxation, and limiting stimulates like alcohol, coffee and other substances will help you to feel energised and able to cope with stress.
Learn how to use relaxation techniques — since stress is a natural part of life and adapting to change is stressful, learning how to relax your body and mind can be helpful. Activities such as yoga, tai chi, qigong (Lin 2000), listening to relaxing music or relaxation tapes (from local bookstores or libraries), going for a bush walk or a walk along the beach, meditation, developing breathing techniques for relaxation and so on are some ways in which to cope with stress and restore harmony and balance.
Music therapy is a well established form of counselling that may, like drama therapy also be useful at least for reducing stress and anxiety relating to change (Bright, 2002).
Keep an open mind — try to be objective and avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly without understanding the nature of change and its consequences. You may well like the change when at first it didn’t look too inviting.
Gather information for learning — fear of the unknown can be a great source for cultivating a cycle of distress and ignorance. Change or transition can foster uncertainty for many people. By understanding how change works and what the change may entail builds your confidence to adapt to change. You can do some research on the internet or go to your local library and study what change may bring. Being prepared and having some knowledge can reduce the uncertainty and the fear of the unknown that drives anxiety and stress.
Gradually build the changes — ‘limit the pace of change’ — trying to tackle big changes all at once is a recipe for failure — it is just too stressful and consuming of your time and energy. Try to tackle and adjust to smaller changes at a time so that you can have control over what you understand and how you deal with the change. Trying to tackle and adjust to big changes may become too overwhelming and you may end up becoming too stressed and develop depression or anxiety if you fail.
Talk to other people who can help and who you trust — try to be specific about your worries or concerns with someone you trust and you know will help. This gives the other person the best chance of being clear about what you are going through and how best to help. Being mutually open and cooperative can help to solve lots of problems and issues, and gives you a sense of ‘well I’m not doing this all on my own’.
Consider joining a support group — experience can be a great teacher. Other people who have experienced transition or change may be able to share their story or stories with you. The purpose of a support group is to assist with understanding and to support one another as they try to cope with change.
Consider professional counselling — professional counsellors are people trained with knowledge, skills and experience to provide understanding and assistance for anyone who find life or change difficult to cope with. They can help you to express your concerns, your fears, and your feelings and to understand how you feel about change. They can also help you to develop your own skills and strategies to deal with change so that you have confidence and competence in adapting to change (can be lifelong skills).
Professional counsellors are facilitators of learning and change and they can guide you to making better decisions and solving problems yourself (Freshwater, 2003: 69). They develop with you a therapeutic relationship aimed to help you mobilise resources (internal and external) and to develop a plan or plans of action. Keeping a reflective journal or diary can help one focus on change experiences, reactions to change and the evaluation of the effectiveness of coping with change.
Keep a sense of humour — we know that life should not be all doom and gloom. We all have the capacity to laugh and find humour in the craziest of things. Change can be stressful so having a sense of humour can break down the seriousness a bit and make change look not so daunting or tough. In a hundred years who is going to care about the change you are faced with today — it’s all a matter of perceptions. Go out and see or rent a funny movie or one that makes you laugh. Meet with friends who make you laugh and see the funny or ridiculous side of things.
That old Monty Python song ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ and having a laugh at adversity can actually help you to look at change in a totally different and less sinister or threatening light. Humour is good for your body and mind too as it releases pent up energy and reduces the build up of cortisol that is released during stress, especially chronic levels of stress where high levels of cortisol can be damaging to the body and brain and to fighting off infections and wound healing.