Change freaks me out! probably even more than speaking in public. Don’t ask me why because I will not know how to answer you. Just in the last two (going on three) years I’ve had to deal with so much drastic change in my life and for someone who gets freaked out by ONE change, it has caused major upheaval in my life.
Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about so you know I’m not exaggerating and so you know I’m not being a “drama queen”.
- Mom’s sudden terminal illness (last quarter of 2013) – me becoming primary caregiver while holding down a full time job and other challenges like studying part time at the same time
- Mom’s sudden death (in spite of terminal illness we did not expect death within 14 months from date of diagnosis)
- Dad died three months after mom
- Loss of job (and income) after 13 years of employment (contract ended)
- Loss of sister and her family (chose to travel to see the world beyond our borders)
- Adjusting to a new lifestyle
- Adjusting to the possibility of a new friendship/relationship after more than 30 years (huge change for an introvert like me)
Change, whether good or bad causes stress. The events above are not necessarily similar, but they all require major adjustment in how I conduct my daily life. These adjustments cause stress even when they are positive. On the other hand, negative changes can yield positive results. You never know what you are going to get and that is what scares the hell out of me.
Why do I find change so difficult to adapt to is a question I keep asking myself. While growing up so much happened to me that I had no control over and which is probably when I decided to control that which I could to the best of my ability.
Over the years, I slowly defined how my world was going to work and that is, I will control those aspects of my life which I could physically control and whenever something happens in my personal world or to me personally that is inconsistent with the way I feel my world should be, I encounter resistance to the change. This is when I immediately and automatically (without thinking about it) put up a wall of resistance to protect myself against the change.
Adjusting to a new lifestyle:
So what does this have to do with me adopting and adjusting to a new lifestyle? Well, I’m asking myself the following questions:
- Where will this new road take me?
- How long will it take for me to make the necessary changes and adjustments in my life to cope with the change?
- Is my new path dangerous?
- What I don’t know scares me to death and change creates a lot of uncertainty in the process – am I ready for this?
When we experience the world ourselves in a certain way for half a century, we develop core beliefs that make up our world view of how life is supposed to be.
We seek out people like us to avoid change: Because new information bothers our brains, we continue to seek friends where we always found them in the past to reinforce our beliefs in spite of knowing that those friendships are no longer satisfying or fulfilling. We try to stick to what we know even though it is or was never satisfying or fulfilling.
We hate to feel like we wasted our time and effort: When we invest ourselves in anything emotionally, it becomes harder to change because we don’t want to lose all the time and effort we have already invested in something. As a result, we have a hard time letting go of the “old life” and we become reluctant to embrace the new life even though we know the old life never worked or satisfied us in the past.
So, what should I do to cope with all these changes in my life?
- Accept the inevitability of change and the resulting stress: I have to learn that stress is an inevitable part of the process. Changing the way I think and feel is meant to be hard, but it will get even harder if I don’t make the necessary adjustments now. I need to give myself permission to feel the change-related distress and all of the associated emotions that come with it. If I don’t process them, I will have to isolate myself from all things that represent the “distressing” change, just to be able to function.
- I need to allow myself to freak out, but should always consider the upside: I should give myself permission to freak out in my own time and then find ways to move forward positively. The psychological distress caused by some changes can make having an optimistic outlook feel like an impossible task. That’s okay. I need to do all the kicking and screaming (resisting) I need to do, then start to seek out ways to make my new lifestyle choice more acceptable to my old way of thinking.
The only way my fears and stress will disappear is if I calm down and embrace the unknown.
As much as I resisted each of the changes in my life, I’ve since learned to embrace the impermanency of my life and the changes that come my way. Here are 6 lessons life has taught me on embracing change:
Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” – Carl Jung
- Reduce expectations: In each of my life’s circumstances, I had high expectations for my family and myself. I had expected each to remain constant and to last forever, but I’ve learned that nothing lasts forever. You can have reasonable expectations of how you’d like something to turn out, but you cannot marry yourself to that result. Reducing or having no expectations about a relationship, or a situation can help you accept whatever may come from it. When you set reasonable expectations, and don’t expect or demand a particular outcome, you’re better able to manage any changes that do come your way. Unreasonable expectations of life, will more likely be met with loss, disappointment and pain.
“Those with little expectations in life are seldom disappointed”
- Acknowledge change: Change can happen quickly and at any point in your life. I learned this very quickly when my mom went from being healthy as a horse to dead in 14 months. I was forced to instantly realise that change can happen in the blink of an eye. I was still trying to deal with the fact that my mother who was never sick a day in her life was now suddenly terminally ill and before I even came to terms with that fact, she was dead. Today I still sometimes sit and wonder “what the hell happened?” I was forced to realise that things can and will be different from how they are at any given moment. Acknowledging change is allowing it to happen when it unfolds instead of approaching change from a place of denial and resistance.
- Accepting change: There were times when I desperately tried to stop change from happening in my life by trying to forge ahead even in futile situations. Instead of resisting, I should allow change to unfold and try to understand what is transforming and why. Circumstances will not always turn out the way you want them to, and it’s perfectly alright. Embracing the situation can help you deal with the change effectively, make the necessary shifts in your life to embrace the change, and help you move forward after the change has happened.
- Learn from the experience: If you accept and embrace change, you will start looking for and finding lessons in it. When dramatic changes were happening in my life, I refused to acknowledge them at first, which left me distraught and without meaning. Once I reflected back and finally accepted the changes, the lessons I started absorbing were profound. Change becomes your greatest teacher but only if you give yourself permission to learn from it.
- Recognise you’re growing stronger: When you accept, embrace and learn from change, you inevitably grow stronger. The ability to continuously accept change allows you to become solid as a rock in the midst of violent storms all around you – even if you feel afraid.
The main lesson I learned from my mom’s sudden illness and sudden death was that I’m a lot stronger than everybody believed I was (even stronger than I thought I was myself). This was when I saw for myself that I can truly deal with anything life throws my way and I’m stronger for it in the end.
- Embrace the wisdom: The more I permitted change and impermanence in my life, the more I grew as a person. Embracing change has brought newfound strength into my life and more inner peace. When you proactively embrace change and learn to accept it as part of your life, you are filled with more calmness, peace and courage. When life fails to shake you up with its twists and turns, you realise that changes can’t break you. You will have reached a level of understanding in life that some may even call wisdom.
I have by no means reached that place called “wisdom”, but I am working through my aversions to change. I now openly welcome and embrace it.
When we can accept change, learn from it, and become all the better for experiencing it, change is no longer our enemy, it becomes our teacher.