How can we deal effectively with change?

The Challenge

Change is all around us, it’s unavoidable, in fact, change is part of the process of life. So … why do we chronically fear change and react with anxiety through this natural process. We should be used to change by now … it’s been part of life for millions of years!

The reason we may fear change is between what we might call “familiar” and “unfamiliar” types of change. Familiar change is the type we all can, more-or-less, expect and anticipate: we grow older, we learn new things, we expect to get a flu in winter, our favorite (mostly winning) team goes on a (mostly) losing streak, etc.

It is, however, normal to feel disoriented in the midst of unfamiliar, or unexpected, change and cues. In our rapid-fire, rapidly changing world, our schedules, plans and routines become disrupted in a totally unexpected way. The recent mortgage crisis, the stock market crash, and the global economic turmoil are all unexpected, profound, changes that most people simply did not expect to happen.

The challenge is to learn skills so that we can deal with both types of change, the familiar and the unfamiliar, the expected and the unexpected. How do we learn to become resilient and confident in our ability to deal with change?

The Solution

In the midst of change most of us get off of our center because we are creatures of habit. We normally gravitate to sameness and routine unless we work really hard at doing different things. For example, we take the same route to work, eat in the same restaurants on the same day of the week, eat the same cereal for breakfast everyday, wear the same style clothes all the time, watch the same TV shows, etc.

The first step to coping with change is to break some of these simple habits. If we can change in some small ways, we can get accustomed to dealing with change and the bigger, less familiar changes will be easier to deal with.
On the flip side, keeping some routine can be a very useful tool in managing uneasiness and shock. By keeping some things the same, we can cope better with big changes. We need a sense of security and stability during unexpected change. Getting up at the same time, frequenting our favorite restaurant, and keeping a hand-me-down gives us consistency and control.

It’s all about balance!

So the important point is achieving a proper balance between habits we keep and those we can easily break, that is, finding a center point. People that survive the best in the face of the fury of change are those who can go with the flow of change. There are countless examples of people who have lost relationships, jobs, homes and fortunes just because they couldn’t embrace change; and others who have faced similar challenges and yet have excelled and thrived.

Actually the best defense against change is to get plenty of exercise, plenty of rest, and watch your diet. Stay centered. Even if you take all the right steps and follow the best advice, undergoing change creates stress in your life, and stress takes energy. By being aware of this, you can compensate by taking special care of your mind and body. Also know your limits and don’t be afraid to take reasonable risks. Enrolling in a recreational club, community college or adult education program in your area can have positive effects on your confidence.

Get help when you need it. If you are confused or overwhelmed with the changes swirling around you, ask for help from those around you. If your anxiety is getting the better of you and is affecting your sleep, then tell you primary care physician who can help you get on the right track with the help of a professional counselor.

Embracing Change Checklist
-Change can be good; change can mean growth, or opportunity. Problems are opportunities!
-Change some simple habits, its good training to learn how to cope with unfamiliar/unexpected change that you can’t control as well.
-Learn to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings of unfamiliar/unexpected change by writing down your feelings about change each day. Become a change detective.
-Surround yourself with positive people.
-Try not to take the change personally by meeting with other people also affected by the change.
-Distinguish between and forest and the trees: Look at the bigger picture. By doing so, you can develop a clear concept of where you fit in or what is next in your life.
-Focus on something that won’t change – like your innermost values.
-Keep your expectations in check – Taking control and managing anxiety means being realistic. Always aim for something that is within your reach, in line with your capabilities, and in line with the overall situation/environment.
-Expect that there will be some bumps in the road: change is never painless.
-Go gradually: there are unforeseen sacrifices and challenges which you can often embrace and accept over time.
-Acknowledge your basic ability to adapt.
-Commit to a plan and stick to it.
-A healthy body can mean healthy mind, i.e. more able to cope with change.

(c) 2009 Arlene Unger, PhD. All rights reserved. May be reproduced "as is", i.e. without change or fees.

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Author's Bio: 

Dr Unger has a busy private clinical practice located at The Center for Empowerment, Dana Point, CA, USA and has been active in online therapy for several years and the mental health profession for several decades, having held licenses/certifications as a Speech Pathologist (SP), Marriage, Family and Child Counselor (MFCC), Dance Therapist (ADTR), and currently Clinical Psychologist (PSY licensure). She also has certifications in Wellness, Health and Executive Coaching, as well as Nutrition.

Dr. Unger uses both Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) approaches to treating children/adolescents, individual adults, couples and families. She provides both children and adults with solution focused psychological counseling for a wide spectrum of clinical disorders and/or behavioral concerns. She has extensive experience in conducting Fitness for Duty, Employee Assistance Manager Referrals, Return-To-Work, Substance Abuse evaluations, Adoption and Custody, and Gastric Bypass evaluations.

Dr. Unger enjoys blending her clinical expertise with her vast intuition and imagination. Her client feedback readily suggests improvement in physical energy, mental flexibility, emotional mobility, and serenity.

Dr. Unger, and her husband Stefan Unger, PhD, started Real Psych Solutions ( in February 2009 to provide practical Self-Help materials based on professional mental health counseling and wellness/lifestyle/executive coaching and to explain the appropriate roles for Self-Help, Coaching and Counseling.

CURRENT LICENSES/CERTIFICATIONS: PhD in Clinical Psychology (PSY); EAP (Employee Assistance Professional); CD (Chemical Dependency); SAP (Substance Abuse Professional); Domestic Violence; Neuropsychological Testing; Wellness and Health Coaching; Executive Coaching; Nutrition