As much as we wish it weren’t the case sometimes, change is a guarantee in life. In a lot of ways, change can be good. It forces us to grow, to try new things, to expand. It makes us deal with our fears and when things go well it can make us feel more capable. However, even if we understand intellectually that change is unavoidable and often a good thing, it can be really tricky to accept change when it comes up. We are creatures of habit, and when our routine gets disrupted it can be jarring. Big changes can bring up a lot of complicated feelings. In fact, some experts define grief as “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” So, it makes sense that big changes can often leave you feeling upset. Fortunately, there are ways to help you adjust to big life changes so they’re not so distressing.
Big life changes are complicated.
Sometimes, you might feel excited for what’s to come. You might feel intense grief for the way things used to be. Whatever you’re feeling in the wake of big life changes is normal. Here are some big life changes that people often have a hard time dealing with:
- Becoming a parent
- Losing a loved one
- Career changes
- Loss of faith
- Living through a traumatic event
- Getting married
- Changes in financial status
Part of the reason that adjusting to change is so tricky is that your brain has to learn your new patterns. When you do something over and over, your brain develops a neural pathway, or a mental shortcut, to help us process the familiar quickly. When change happens, your brain has to learn a new pattern. Even if the change is related to something good, your brain still has to adjust, and that can be upsetting.
If you’re struggling to adjust to big life changes, here are some suggestions for how to get through this time:
Denial is powerful. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re denying something because it’s happening on an unconscious level. It can be a turning point to name what you’re going through. When you stop fighting against what’s happening, you will experience less discomfort. Some things are out of your control, and it’s important to accept that. When you experience resistance to change, know that it’s your brain’s way of trying to protect you and keep you in the familiar. It can help to notice that resistance when it comes up and move forward anyway.
Change your self-talk
The way you talk to yourself matters. Even if you don’t notice how you talk to yourself, you internalize the messages you send, so it can be game-changing to send yourself a new message. Try using affirmations, even if it feels silly, to help reprogram some of that language in your head. Affirmations can also help you deal with the uncertainty of change, which can be particularly distressing. Remind yourself that uncertainty isn’t always bad. Even if you have a hard time turning your self-talk from negative to positive, aim for neutral self-talk instead. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “Change is scary. I’m not going to be able to deal with this.” try saying, “Change is complicated, but it doesn’t always have to be bad.” See what you can shift from negative to a more neutral stance.
Keep a routine
As we discussed above, your brain thrives on the familiar. To keep the new and scary stuff to a minimum, try to come up with a routine that you can stick to as much as possible during this transition. If it’s tricky to stick to a routine every day, try to come up with some things that you do every day, and build a routine off of those. Even if you don’t always work in the same place, you probably eat a few times a day, right? Try setting aside some time before or after a meal to practice some self-care, like a guided meditation or deep breathing. Give your brain something familiar to cling to so you’re not completely overwhelmed by new things.
Practice self-care like it’s your job
Make sure you’re taking extra time for self-care during big life changes. Changes can be exhausting mentally and physically, so make sure you’re hitting the basics like getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, eating nourishing meals, and moving your body regularly. You might even be extra tired, so make sure to get lots of rest. Don’t look at it as a punishment to take care of yourself, view it as a privilege. You are taking the time to give yourself comfort during a tough time, and you are deserving of that comfort. If you have a hard time making space for self-care, try scheduling it into your day like a meeting you can’t miss.
Know that this too shall pass
Every tough time eventually passes. It seems like we’re caught in a never-ending tough time right now, but eventually life will go back to normal again. You will become comfortable in your new situation, and it won’t always feel upsetting or scary. Remind yourself that you’ve gotten through every tough time you’ve ever dealt with up until now, and you can get through this too.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Times of transition are intense. You don’t need to go it alone. Make sure to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Hearing another person’s take on what you’re experiencing might help you feel less alone during big life changes, and asking for help is okay! Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need from the people in your life. Therapy can also be a great option for big life changes. Therapists are trained in ways to cope with tough times. They can help you find specific-to-you ways to deal with your situation that will leave you feeling more empowered to deal with whatever comes your way.