Coping with Change, by Kayla Walker, MFTI
I don't know about you, but personally, I hate being in the middle of change. I like stability, consistency, routine—knowing what comes next and what to expect. Change feels like anything but that. It's uncomfortable and awkward; it forces you to step out into the unknown.
When I moved to San Diego 8 years ago, I was so excited to start a new chapter in my life. But in the days and weeks before and after my move, I found myself feeling so overwhelmed by the ways my life was changing. I had a new job, new roommates, a new city, and a new culture to navigate far away from the family, friends, and customs that were so familiar. As I settled into my new life, I was haunted by the loss of the comforts of home and the ways that my life would never be the same again. Even though I had hope that I would eventually feel “at home” in my new home, it was so hard to see how or when I would find my way to feeling better. Since then, I've experienced many more changes—more moves, marriage, new jobs, a baby—and with each change comes a season of stress and uneasiness while I work to find my way towards balance again. And I don't like it. In fact, I usually feel the urge to fight change whenever it comes about. I like my comfort zone, thank you very much.
But, alas, change is an inevitable part of life. We move forward. We grow up. We seize opportunities. We begin and end relationships. Loved ones change, move, leave, or die. Sometimes change is exciting—a new job, a new relationship, a new baby. Sometimes it's sad—breakup, health problems, and loss. More often it's ambiguous—its the stressful transition from kid to adult or the struggle to cope when a loved one is changing and we realize we must change, too. These changes—even the positive, exciting ones—are always accompanied by stress. And when change is overwhelming or complex, this stress can balloon into anxiety, burnout, and/or relationship problems.
The good news is that there are some things you can do to cope with the stress of change:
Remember that you're not alone. Because change is an unavoidable part of living life, every person you meet is either currently experiencing some kind of change in his/her life or has just come through a season of change. Do you have friends or family members who have experienced a change similar to yours? Reaching out to them to share your feelings and anxieties can help. Hearing about their experiences can help make your own season of change seem more normal and remind you that things will get better.
Know that it's okay to acknowledge how you feel, even if what you're feeling is loss. Burying or ignoring how you feel won't help the feelings go away; on the contrary, it can amplify your stress. It is normal and natural to feel a range of emotions when going through any kind of life change, and acknowledging these feelings can help you release the stress of them and be more aware of what you need to cope. And it's not surprising to feel a sense of loss, even during a positive change. Change inherently accompanies the end of something—and that ending needs to be acknowledged and sometimes grieved before it can be put to rest in favor of a new beginning.
Find a focal point (or two). As these endings and new beginnings shift into place around you, life can feel chaotic and unpredictable. After you've acknowledged what's changing and how you feel about it, remember the things that aren't changing, and use them to help you keep your balance. Graduating from college brings a lot of obvious change—moving, finding a job, financial independence, and so on. But in the midst of these changes, there are still stable forces in your life, like hobbies that you enjoy and relationships with friends or family. Set aside some extra time to focus on these things as you move through your season of change.
Take heart: you're just in the middle of your story. Recently, a friend reminded me that a caterpillar doesn't know that he's going to become a butterfly, but a butterfly always knows that he was once a caterpillar. This idea is both profound and hopeful. Change is hard, and it can feel scary and overwhelming. It's only at the end of it that we can look back and see how vital it was to the story of our lives. In this season of change, remember the stress, anxiety, or loss that you feel now is not the end of your story; it is only the tumultuous middle of a great and complex story of transformation. You will find your balance again, and you will come out of this season with greater resilience and strength.
Are you struggling to cope with a recent change or life transition? Maybe a therapist can help. Contact Kayla at 619-272-6858 x708 for more information or to schedule an appointment.