How to Embrace Change

Vicki Enns

change, changes, embracing change, self-help, counselling, therapy, mental health

Have you ever been pulled along by the force of change or felt like you have no control over it?

We all know the one thing we can count on in life is change. It’s always going to show up. Whether it’s unexpected or something we go looking for, it is always somewhat stressful!

Recently, I’ve chosen to make some changes to my work commitments and the way I spend my time professionally. This was a planned change that has been in the works for a while. Yet I didn’t expect it to cause many ripples in my life since I’m still doing the same job – it just looks a little different.

I have been surprised by how much change fallout I have noticed as a result of these shifts in my work life. For me, change fallout means lots of random thoughts about work bubbling up at inconvenient times, like when I’m trying to fall asleep. Or I just feel silly, like a confused rookie when I’ve been doing this work for almost six years. I don’t see this as a bad thing – it’s just strange, and a little disorienting.

I know my particular change fallout is mild, but in other situations, the stress of change can cause bigger impacts on physical health or mental wellness. It can cause disruptions in relationships or affect our ability to keep up with the different parts of life.

As I’ve been observing my own unsteadiness, I’ve found a few things that have helped me stay upright and moving forward. I offer these as reminders to myself, and possible tips for anyone going through change.

1. Notice the patterns in how you react to change.

We all have patterns. Under stress, our familiar habitual reactions kick in. It’s part of our survival instinct to protect ourselves when things get difficult.

It’s a natural reaction to either want to work against change (even when we have planned it), or rush it in order to reach our new “normal.” We are not wired to cope with uncertainty well.

Consider these common patterns:

  • Do you typically push back, grumble, and feel irritated by shifts in your schedule, or when you can’t predict what is going to happen?
  • Do you rush into change with high enthusiasm? Do you affect change in many areas all at once, adopting the when-it-rains-it-might-as-well-pour attitude?
  • Do you look for someone to blame for your discomfort? Or do you generally adopt a life-is-against-me attitude when it gets hard?
  • Do you put your head down, close your eyes, and wait for the dust to settle? This is the this-too-shall-pass
When going through a change, it’s important to notice the patterns in how you react to it.

Your pattern(s) may help you cope in small ways, but these habits typically add to the stress. Naming your own pattern and recognizing it as a habit slows down the possible fallout.

2. Recognize where you have some choice.

“What is in the way becomes the way.”

This quote attributed to Marcus Aurelius is usually interpreted to mean that when we recognize the barriers in front of us and tackle them, we muster up the motivation to find a way through them.

However, when it comes to our own internal barriers, I think this quote can be interpreted in another way. When a habitual pattern of coping kicks in, we tend to repeat it, and the pattern becomes even more deeply entrenched – like a rut that our tires keep getting stuck in. This reaction then becomes our way more often, but it may end up being in our way in the future.

If we take the first step of recognizing our habits when they arise, we are presented with a choice. We can use this reminder as motivation to choose how to respond.

Some steps for this:

  • Honour your pattern. It originated somewhere. No need for endless self-reflection or criticism. It’s a waste of your time and misses the mark. Be gracious and respectful with yourself by being honest and kind.
  • What do you want to get from this change? Whether you asked for it or not, things are moving. This is an opportunity to step differently through your life.
  • What is important to you that you don’t want to change? When things are disrupted, the fallout can trickle into many areas of life. All your routines can get thrown off, and it’s easy to forget things you used to take for granted. Stress can start leading your decisions. Focus on small, manageable routines or habits that you do want to keep – and keep doing them amidst the change.

3. Expect and embrace the disruptive force of change.

When you feel the winds of change, keep your eyes open. Change is disruptive. Period. It will bring some chaos into your life. Sometimes when we fall down, we notice a different viewpoint looking up from the ground that allows us to see things we normally wouldn’t see.

Consider using change as a force for transformation.

  • Give yourself permission to change. Let go of the self-protective pattern that strives to keep things the same. Open up to the possibility of change.
  • Adopt an attitude of curiosity and wonder. Stress pulls our focus to the negative possibilities and can cause us to catastrophize. Intentionally remind yourself that unexpected good things can also come out of change.
  • Allow yourself to be moved by the change, without giving up your footing. When overwhelmed, we tend to shift to all-or-nothing thinking and believe there is nothing we can do, or that everything we knew before is gone. You still have lots of wisdom and skills from what you were doing before. Now you’ll be stretched to learn and add some new ones.

Change inherently means losing some control. This can be freeing if we embrace it by catching the momentum and riding it in the direction we (more or less) want to go.

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Author: Vicki Enns (MMFT, RMFT)
Clinical Director, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

Vicki is the editor and co-author of CTRI’s book, Counselling Insights: Practical Strategies for Helping Others with Anxiety, Trauma, Grief, and More. The book is available on our website.

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