Stress & Change: Three Ways to Manage Life Changes More Comfortably
It's strange when you think about it, that in a constantly changing world, human beings don't seem to be better designed to deal with change. Granted, some of us seem to thrive on constant change - but most of us are far more comfortable with consistency. For the vast majority of people, change is something that's unnerving at best, and downright frightening at worst.
When you start looking at what a stress reaction actually is, the way we deal with change isn't too difficult to understand. Literally, stress is our body's reaction to our mind telling it there's something we need to adapt to that it's not sure we're going to be able to manage. When you consider that change, by its definition will usually involve exchanging a situation we know from experience we can deal with for one we know no such thing about, it's no surprise we find change stressful.
So what can we do to make change less stressful for ourselves?
KEEPING OUR RESOURCE LEVELS HIGH
Just as with any other source of stress, we'll deal with the stress that comes from change better if we keep our general resource levels high. That means ensuring we're eating enough of the right foods, getting a reasonable amount of exercise, and sleeping enough (whatever â¬Ëenough' might be for us as individuals). There's no need to be fanatical about it - it's OK to eat a little junk food, party a little or skip a workout every now and then - the important thing is what we do most of the time. Simply looking after ourselves can make all the difference between experiencing change as a challenge to be met, or a whirlwind to be survived.
Even when change isn't causing our stress responses to go into overdrive, incorporating some kind of relaxation practice into our daily lives is a good idea. When stress starts to make itself felt, relaxation is doubly important. Different folks find different things relaxing - and it's important to do something you actually find relaxing, rather than something experts tell you should be relaxing for you. Consider trying meditation, yoga, t'ai ch'i, hypnosis audios, journaling, walking somewhere pleasant or just taking time out to listen to your favourite music. What you actually do is less important than that you take regular time out to do it.
THE SITUATION ITSELF
Finally, there's the situation itself. As mentioned above, a big part of what kicks our stress response off when it comes to change is our fear of the unknown. The more we know about the end result of the change that's happening, the less it tends to cause us stress. So the first thing to do to once you start feeling stressed about an upcoming change is to get as clear a picture as possible about it. How much control do you have over what's happening? How is it going to impact your day-to-day life?
It's well documented that the more control we feel we have over a situation, the less stress it will cause us. Getting a clear picture also gives us a better idea of what is really within our realm of control and what isn't. Often, just knowing we have the ability to influence the outcome of a change makes it feel less threatening. Of course, sometimes there's genuinely nothing we can do one way or the other. If that's the case, it may help to realise that there are many, many other things in our lives we have no control over either - the weather and traffic being prime examples. Just because something's out of our control doesn't necessarily mean we aren't capable of dealing with it.
For the things we can't control, it can help to do a risk assessment. What's the worst that could happen, and what measures can we put into place to help ourselves deal with it if it does? Specifics here will depend on the nature of the change, but you may find it helpful to talk it through with a trusted (and ideally, level-headed) friend, or someone who knows more about the situation your facing. The important thing here is that even if you can't control the situation, you can control your response to it. Knowing in advance that you've thought about what could happen and you're prepared to deal with it can go a long way towards managing the stress that comes from change.
Feeling stress at the prospect of a major change in our lives is a natural human response. However, by ensuring we're taking care of ourselves, and including some kind of regular relaxation practice in our daily routines, we can do much to minimise the impact that stress has on our lives. Additionally, by stepping back and trying to get as clear a picture of how the change will affect us as possible, we actually lower the likelihood of it causing a stress response in the first place.