The experience and anticipation of fear creates a feeling of trepidation in most people. The unfamiliar feels painful to us and we do our best to avoid it. But growth only comes with change. Learn five steps of coping with change that will help you get through difficult times and become a stronger person.
Change is something most people go through in their life. Although change is unavoidable, we tend to resist the unknown. Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, once famously said, “Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life.”
In other words, change will always be there, but having the ability to adapt means the difference between success and unrealized potential. However, we are rarely taught how to adjust our attitudes and beliefs in times of uncertainty and distress, as well as the process we go through to resettle, which is what I want to discuss today.
Despite contrary opinions, the ability to adapt can be learned and practiced. A simple and structured approach to our phased reactions to change has proven effective to help us absorb the initial shock and resistance. Thereby, we can cultivate the acceptance needed to utilize the opportunities that change presents to us.
Since change can often feel like pain, grief, or loss, we tend to naturally drift back to the status quo that we are familiar with, even if it also means pain, stagnation, or lost opportunities. Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh argues that we prefer suffering that is familiar to us because it gives us a sense of comfort and certainty.
Change, on the other hand, feels like unfamiliar pain, because it is unpredictable and unmanageable, which we are not used to dealing with. Therefore, when facing change, people may have experiences described in Elizabeth Kübler Ross’s model, known as the Five Stages of Grief.
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The Kübler-Ross model encapsulates the series of emotions that a person feels in reaction to an intense loss or the fear that such a loss is imminent. These stages are denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.
According to Kübler-Ross, the confusion, fear, and shock a person feels immediately following sudden upsetting news or an event, compels them to avoid or deny the experience as they try to continue with their life as usual. After denial, a person becomes anxious, frustrated and angry about what has happened, leading them to blame others.
Next, a sense of helplessness sets in, and they begin withdraw from the activities and contacts they used to enjoy. They may fall into the trap of “what if,” or “if only.” They might even try seeking out a higher power and “bargaining,” trying to turn the situation around or reverse tragedy. Eventually, as the person moves through Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages, they start to recognize the need to restart their life, they learn to accept what has happened, and try to find meaning again. They can then reach out to others and share their story with those who have been in a similar situation.
I have recently recognized that the process of change follows a similar pattern than the stages of grief introduced by Kübler-Ross.
Experiencing grief or loss is similar to suddenly being subjected to a life-altering change. Confusion, fear, and feeling lost are typical reactions to something unexpected and unpredictable. You may become overwhelmed by conflicting information as you figure out what to do. Therefore, as much as possible, you should focus on facts rather than fiction, opinion, and inaccurate information.
It’s natural to feel anxiety under extraordinary circumstances, yet we tend to demonize this feeling and attack it, rather than neutralizing it by accepting it when it arises. Understand that anxiety will come and go. You won’t always feel anxiety, but neither will you never feel it.
Anger towards yourself often follows anxiety and confusion after an uncontrollable change. You might feel frustrated that you have lost agency. You feel you don’t have power over your own life. The anger starts to take over your thoughts and feelings as you seek to escape its hold. Rather than starving your anger and frustration of energy, you feed it, which makes it stronger.
Instead, allow yourself to feel anger. Recognize it through journaling, mindfulness, introspection, and other reflections, thereby allowing it to divert away from yourself and dissipate.
When you are able to recognize reality and distinguish between the things you can change and what you can’t, you begin to accept the inevitability of the change to which you have been subjected. This doesn’t mean you are happy about your situation, but you can disassociate it from your subjective emotions.
As a result, you can now start dealing with your new reality. Although this is a good place to be, don’t rush the transition from anxiety and anger to acceptance. Instead, let yourself settle naturally as you form a stronger and more stable base from which to navigate your new life.
Understand that acceptance is a growing state that can temporarily revert back to anxiety and anger at any time. Remember that no emotion has a permanent fixture.
#4 Adjusting & adapting
The fourth stage in dealing with change is adjusting and adapting. This is where you should spend the most time and energy to experiment with different routines, habits, activities, connections, and focus. You can also work on obtaining knowledge and learning new skills to apply in different ways and areas. This is an exciting stage where you are constantly trying to figure out how you fit into your new environment. A helpful grounding exercise is to develop one landmark activity to do in the morning, and another in the evening, which supports and allows you to adjust more easily.
The fifth and final step in dealing with change is action. Now that you’ve gone through the preceding steps, you have a solid base and plan. You are ready to move in the direction that is right for you.
So, the five stages involved in reacting to change are anxiety, anger, acceptance, adjusting and adapting, and action. This is a cycle that you may often repeat multiple times in your personal growth process. Nothing ever stays the same. The key to managing change is to always find new ways to live and love your life in every situation.
This attitude allows you to feel hope and affection – that you’re part of the solution for yourself and others, and that you’re actively involved in the ripple effect to make the world better for everyone.