Change can be stressful and downright scary. Anything that arrives unannounced or threatens to shake up your world can bring on fear-driven thoughts, whether it’s something as benign as a new corporate policy, a new boss, or even a move to a new office building. All of it can weigh heavily on your mind and take you off your game.
Because fear of uncertainty is hard-wired into us, we do lots of things to make ourselves feel safe, including setting up certain parameters in our minds that may not be true, for instance: “good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people.” But when change rocks our lives and upsets all the neat little rules we’ve created for ourselves, that sense of safety contracts.
The irony is that change is the only sure thing—which is why being able to shift your interpretation of it is going to be far more helpful than any effort to stop change from happening. Here are some ways to start to make that shift, and reduce the negative effects of the stress of change.
Identify your scariest thought—and zap it.
Think of negative thought patterns as a spiral staircase; you can either follow them down or climb up and out, and you can only do that when you recognize the thoughts that trigger fear. Look, bad things do happen. But when you focus on the worst case scenario, you allot the majority of your energy to worrying about something that hasn’t actually happened—and that’s a downright waste of your resources. At the same time, there may be good possible outcomes and choices at your disposal, but you’re failing to see the positives and maximize them because you’re caught in a downward spiral of anxiety.
What is the worry that keeps bobbing to the surface? Complete this sentence out loud: “I’m afraid that _______.” Is it a realistic outcome or is it an extreme response to a slim possibility? If it’s a real fear, what’s one action you can take right now to feel more in control and less a victim of circumstance? Write it down, schedule it, and do it—whether that’s reaching out to a trusted colleague,or checking your financial accounts and putting measures in place to save up.
Recall a time when a change brought you new opportunity.
It helps to remember that change is not innately good nor bad—it’s a neutral series of events that triggers different reactions. But it also helps to remind yourself that change is very often opportunity to grow. Good things can happen, even if you didn’t imagine they would.
Think of a time when an unexpected change led to a new, unexpected, positive opportunity for you. Maybe a change in responsibilities at work led you to develop a new skillset and stronger sense of competency, which boosted your confidence. Identify at least one positive thing that has arisen from change in any form in your life—and recognize that it helped cultivate your ability to adapt and adjust to life’s changing tides. It surely felt uncomfortable at the time, but look at you now.
Wish someone well.
It’s easy to feel threatened when change is in the air—and with that fear can come blame and suspicion. Unfortunately, this can have the negative effect of having you pull away from other people—and from support—when you need it most.
One way to counter this negative pull is with a profoundly positive act. Think of someone who, for whatever reason, you associate with this coming change, and perhaps on some level blame them, even if it isn’t their fault. Visualize this person and what she may be going through herself, and what struggles and fears she may be lying in bed worrying about, too. And wish them well in your mind—and really mean it. This helps you flex your empathy muscle, which makes you more open to giving and accepting help. But it’s also a positive, loving act that puts you in control. Which is just what you could use right now.