Adapting to Change

Dr. Anna Breytman

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Dr. Anna Breytman

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Adapting to change: How to do it effectively

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Adapting to change: How to do it effectively

Simply put, change can be a challenge. In the past few years, everyone has had a crash course in learning to adapt to the new, the fear provoking and the unexpected. People continue to struggle in different ways to make the best of an ever evolving world.

Why is change such a challenge?

For many individuals, change can be difficult because of the perceived risk that is associated with it. The risk may be giving up something important, a sense of uncertainty that involves experiencing unpleasant emotions, or risking failure. People can find themselves struggling to determine if there are pros and cons about an upcoming adjustment. They may feel ambivalent and struggle with motivation and preparing for what is ahead. There could be obstacles that people are not sure how to overcome. All of this can feel overwhelming.

Change as it relates to children

We often hear that children are resilient, and they certainly are. The question is, how can we provide support for this resiliency? In the midst of a transition, children may be experiencing a great deal of anxiety and fear about what things will look like in the future. They are also making efforts to cope with uncertainty. They may be struggling with a sense of loss or letting go of something that is preferred or comfortable. A simple yet effective skill that can help, is to label one’s emotions. Just having a term that describes the experience already puts you in a better position to manage that experience adaptively.

Once an emotion is identified, you can create self talk strategies or catch phrases that focus on controlling what you can and feeling empowered. Statements such as “I can manage this” and “I got this” put a child in charge of what they are saying to themselves and a framework of willingness to try. The next step is to use problem solving and an action plan that reflects one’s goal and makes use of effective self-talk.

Change for emerging adults

Emerging adults are getting ready for college, a new career or a move, the start or end of a relationship. All of this can bring with it expected and unexpected transitions. It can be simultaneously exciting and daunting. Relationships are altered, responsibilities are gained, and support systems shift in unique ways. As a result, periods of significant stress, a sense of instability and the anticipation of the unknown may be experienced.

A mindset of being comfortable with the unknown can be helpful. Acceptance is critical. Change will bring some discomfort that is likely to be temporary as you adjust to the new situation and expand your skills. Consider how you may be thinking of change in unhelpful ways which can interfere with motivation, effort, and persistence. Increase awareness of the internal dialogue in your mind. Do you think of setbacks and failures in such a way as to impede you? If perception is reality, could you shift your thinking in a way that takes into account all of the facts rather than narrowly focusing on some of the data? Having a broader perspective could allow you to see additional information and can result in alternate, more adaptive conclusions.

Next, use simple problem solving strategies to brainstorm solutions, examine pros and cons and commit to an action plan. If you are struggling with any of this, think about what skills can help you in working through and being receptive to novel situations. Consider seeking help from a mentor.

Keep up healthy routines that give you the foundation to pursue your goals and stay balanced .

Change as it relates to adults

As adults, we may be spending too much energy trying to ignore or suppress our emotions. Instead, by also acknowledging and labeling your feelings, you are in a better position to determine what would be adaptive responses to the situation. Our emotions are there to alert us to something that we need to pay attention to. If one can manage the emotions effectively, one is in a better position to respond effectively. Consider your emotion regulation skills and how these can be useful.

Novel experiences can be an opportunity to grow and develop a new set of skills. Examining the situation and determining what you can and cannot control can set you up for that effective response. For example, you can make a list of aspects of the situation that you can influence and specific problem solving steps you could take. You can then identify the things you do not have control over and work towards a stance of acceptance.

Use your passions and goals as anchor points that provide stability as you are adjusting to transitions in your life.

When you or an important person in your life have tried to deal with change on your own and are still struggling, you may be experiencing what is called an adjustment disorder. This is a set of extended symptoms following a life change that you have trouble recovering from. As a result, one’s functioning and quality of life can be adversely affected. The prolonged nature of the symptoms can lead to other diagnoses such as major depression. In this case, you may want to consider speaking with a professional to guide you further and develop additional tools.

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