How Do I Survive Stress and Change?
By: David Lechnyr, LCSW
Counselors, therapists and psychologists know that adjusting to change can be difficult for people. Change can offer us both positive and negative benefits. Understanding the issues of change can help us adapt better.
Issues of Change
- Change is something that is always happening around us. We cannot avoid it.
- Change can be exciting and stimulating. The lack of stress is stressful and boring.
- Change needs to be planned for, and anticipated, in our life. Planning helps us deal with it better.
- Change that happens too fast, and too frequently, can be overwhelming and emotionally draining.
- Change is something humans want to resist in favor of maintaining some type of stability.
- Change can be difficult. We want to maintain stability, uniformity, familiarity, routines and the comfort of “sameness” in life.
- Change feels like “Murphy’s Law:” Things seem to happen at the most inconvenient times and we wonder when it, if ever, will all end!
- Change makes us feel that we are always off balance emotionally. We long for things to just go along in a smooth manner without crises and stress.
Negative Aspects of Change
- Change seems to happen more quickly in our present history.
- Change demands that people continue to learn new skills, techniques, and ways of doing things.
- Change demands that we have a “set” for new learning — never feeling we have learned it all.
- Change seems to happen much faster in our jobs, leaving us feeling vulnerable and lacking control.
- Change may keep us tense, wondering what is going to happen next. We ask if we will have a job, what changes will be required of us in a job, and how we might have to do more in our jobs because of the these “changes.”
- Change that is frequent, continuous, and unpredictable, can cause both emotional and physical health problems.
Adjusting to Change
- Accept the fact that change is happening. In fact it will continue to happen.
- Stop asking when will it end. It won’t end.
- Change is going to happen at an ever increasing speed and nature in our world.
- Realize that “the attitude we have” about change that is important.
- Welcome change as an opportunity to move in different directions, to try new skills, and to challenge your beliefs.
- Invest in your support system, knowing that having family, friends, peers, church relationships, etc., all contribute better to our abilities to handle and face stress and change. These “social buffers” are critical to our health and well-being. We live longer if we have a positive support system.
- Let go of negative self-talk, blaming, “the sky is falling,” dramatic negatives in your life.
- Focus on Positive-Self-Talk — knowing you will get through it in time — whatever it is! See the positives in it and “go with the flow.”
- Small Changes, adjusting a little at a time, helps one handle what looks like an overwhelming big change: Focus on the little things you can do now rather than the “whole thing that has to be done.”
Grief & Loss Issues
- Know that any change is hard for us to handle. We miss the familiar, the known, the routines, and the habits.
- When we face loss of old routines we also have a sense of grief.
- When we face change that we have no control over we feel upset and anger.
- Change and stress can create a “black cloud of heaviness” over our heads and minds that makes it difficult to think, function, or even know what to do. We feel trapped and helpless.
- Grief involves eight stages: (1) Denial; (2) Anger; (3) Bargaining (maybe if…); (4) Anxiety about the present & future; (5) Sadness — from silence to tears; (6) Disorganization — even for organized people; (7) Depression — more painful and “heavy” than pain; (8) Acceptance.
- We do not go through the stages in order. We tend to experience them over and over again, up and down, back and forth, until we have “worked them through.”
- Grief is a process that happens over time and cannot be rushed.
- Grief can take initially 3-6 months of adjustment because we have “lost the familiar and predictable.” However, the full process can take up to 1-3 years before we feel ready to “adjust and move on.”
- Grief requires a witness where we have someone we can share it with, talk it out, and “get the pressure out of ourselves.” It should not be endured alone.
- Grief over change is something the many people are now experiencing in life. There is much uncertainty and lack of control over what is happening on our jobs, with our families, children, and life.
Surviving Change & Resilience
- Surviving change requires a positive attitude. It is never the suffering that is the gift. It is the changing and healing that is the real gift.
- When faced with change we have to know that our life’s path has been adjusted and we must adapt and function in an entirely new manner. If we are not flexible we will “snap.”
- There is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed in the face of rapid change, or any type of loss. Some losses will affect us more than others. However, they all have an impact on us.
- Admitting that is “OK” to feel overwhelmed and fearful is the real mark of a strong person. Those who do not acknowledge problems live a life of denial and dysfunction always wondering why they cannot get on with their lives.
- Know that the world is not fair and you have very little control over it! Logic means nothing when we are encountering change, stress, crises, etc.
- Strong people admit that they have problems, look to do something about it, along with being open to reaching for help if it is needed.
- Strong people know that it resilience in the face of crises mandates that we fall apart for a while. However, resilience also requires that we come to find new solutions and ideas that can carry us on to a new level.
- Strong people know that “difficult times do not last — however, strong people do endure, grow & change.”
- Strong people know that change presents both risks and opportunities. It is time to look for the new possibilities, opportunities, and directions that this change is demanding of us.
- Don’t expect the world to change. We spend too much time trying to control and change things that we have little, or no, control over.
- Lower your expectations: The gap between reality and our personal expectations of ourselves, and others, can create more stress for us.
- Focus on short-term goals: Live in the “precious present moment” not in the future.
- Relax and exercise: Take time to relax, breath, listen to music, stretch, and walk daily.
- Open yourself to others: “No man is an island!” However, we tend to isolate ourselves in order to be “strong” and not show emotions. This only brings us down faster. We need to “reach out and touch someone!” Listening to others reduces our blood pressure. We live longer if we have friends.
- Pace yourself, your activities, and watch what you are doing: Take breaks, rest, and don’t push until you are exhausted. Know your energy levels and reserves. Don’t always be on an “adrenalin rush.”
- Know that the work place is unpredictable: We tend to see the work place as “another family” were we act out our needs, desires, hopes, feelings, looking to supervisors as “new parents.” This creates stress as we try to understand, control and/or change them.
- Develop a personal life: Have a life, family, and social supports separate from work. Focus more of your energies in these areas. They can help when the “going gets rough.”
- Learn to say NO: Don’t accept everything asked of you. Pick and choose wisely. Set limits on what is possible. Trying to do everything will just wear you out and overwhelm you.
- Know the warning signs: When you see change happening, take a personal inventory of what it means to you, your present and future. Don’t use denial and avoidance until it is “too late.”
- Seek out professional help when excess stress & depression are noted: Early intervention and treatment can help one to refocus, restructure, and function better. It takes strength to admit problems and to reach out for help.
- Avoid addictive behaviors and substances: We tend to “self-medicate ourselves” with alcohol and drugs in order to avoid feeling and experiencing.
- We tend to avoid feelings by keeping busy: Rushing around is only another form of addictive behaviors which keeps us out of touch with our feelings and emotions.
- Optimism is the key to health: Looking on the bright side of things, figuring out how to do it better or different, looking for opportunities, all allow us to live better and more healthy.
- See the glass as half-full — not half-empty: When we see the potential in situations, rather than the draw backs, we become creative and move forward with more ease.
- Know that the more we resist change, the deeper we will go into the problems and exhaustion: Change offers us a chance to find new ways, ideas, directions, etc. We may not see them at first, but with time, talking, writing and using our imagination, we can come to see the opportunities that we face.
- Know that hardships may last longer than we want: We always want things to end and “get over with” as soon as possible. However, reality tells us that this does not always happen. Difficulties can take “time” to resolve themselves. “All good things happen to those who wait.”
- Use the time to explore alternatives and new directions: Use your imagination to think of what is possible for you. Think of new ideas, talk to others, and investigate everything.
- Analyze your strengths, secret hobbies, interests, etc: Take stock of your strengths, interests, talents, and issues of what you have always wanted to do.
Change can be difficult for all of us. Our world has been changing at a dramatic, fast, pace that is at times overwhelming, confusing, and exhausting. Learning how to handle change is critical for our long-term psychological health. Life does not always turn out the way we had planned. It is a journey that takes us in new directions and places, opening us up to new opportunities. Yes there is risk and problems along the way that we have to overcome. These are tests that “strengthen and toughen us” while preparing us for the new in life. This can be exciting.