Dealing with Change: How to Hold on when the World is Spinning
We all fear it.
Even when everything is changing for good we have to let go of what is familiar and safe. And when we don't really know what is happening – when everything is changing at once – fear is inevitable. And it's hard.
Right now, I am making big changes in my life. Some things are changing against my will, other things are changing because I'm rising up to my true self. And I'll be the first to admit that not knowing what is going on, not even knowing the really basic things like where I'll be living the next couple of months, is challenging. To be honest with you, I think I've cried every single day for the last week.
And yet, I have some really good moments. I feel good – deep down inside. I have a feeling of safety that I've never had before. And I suspect that it might have something to do with a few things I have learned about change over the last year.
And this has changed everything.
How to hold on when the world is spinning
1. Accept what you can not control
Suffering happens when you try to fight what is. The real pain often doesn't come because of the change, it comes from wishing things were different. By trying and trying to make it undone. By dreaming of what has been, and why refusing to accept what is happening.
One of the most proufound acts of acceptance I have ever witnessed was done by 18-year-old Regine Stokke who blogged about her life-threatening cancer. Sadly, she lost the battle with the illness and died only a year after she started her blog. Regine left a beautiful gift to the world and changed the life of so many individual people – including me. The tagline on her blog was "Face your fear. Accept your war. It is what it is."
And she couldn't be more right.
It is what it is. – Regine Stokke
Acceptance is a choice. The reason why you feel that you can't possibly accept what is happening is because you think you can't. To change this, you need to stop the automatic thought-pattern that says I can't accept. And start telling yourself that you can.
Because you can and you will.
2. Focus on the beauty of cycles
It's a commonly used expression that the only constant in life is change.
Just look at nature, look at the seasons, look at the animals.
Then look at yourself. I think you can agree that you are constantly changing.
However, I think the difference between easy change and difficult change is that easy change happens slowly. Which gives you time to mentally prepare and process. The hard change happens fast. Too fast.
Personally, I find it helpful to go though the change that has happened fast and look for signs. Look for the slow changes, the clues and the natural cycle of things. And similarly, when you think about how this change will affect you – look for the cyclical change. Look for the small things that will change more slowly. You don't have to adapt to everything at once.
As an illustration, let me use the example of loosing your job. It's easy to think Bam! One day I'm okay, the next day I'm unemployed. And although that might be true, it's also makes it a lot harder to accept and understand.
A different way of thinking would be to focus on the slow change. When thinking about the past, think about how the firm's economy has been getting worse. Focus on how you've adapted from changing workplaces before. Focus on the fact that you probably wouldn't have worked there for the rest of your life anyways. The change was sudden, but it would've happened anyways. It's natural.
And for the future, think about how life will be like without this job. You don't have to think Employed/Unemployed. Think one day you'll learn how to be frugal. The next day you'll learn how to market yourself. The week after that you might learn what to do with all the free time. Then comes learning to adapt and feel comfortable in a new job.
Take it slow. It's not just black and white.
“Let everything happen to you Beauty and terror Just keep going No feeling is final”― Rainer Maria Rilke
3. Trust what is certain
I learned how to write a trust list from Danielle LaPorte, and although her post is more geared towards the positive end of the change spectrum – big moments, strategies and achievements – the trust list is a powerful tool when faced with difficult changes.
Trust lists are easy to make; just write down everything you already trust. Make it basic if you have to. I once wrote a list that only included things like the sun will rise tomorrow and the world will go on with or without me.
When faced with fast and uncomfortable change, write a list and focus on what you already trust. Let the things you trust be your solid rock when everything else is spinning.
4. Take control where you can
When we feel powerless and overwhelmed by change and disorder – we often resort to control measures that are less than healthy. I know from personal experience how easy it was to take control over food, for example. Other unhealthy coping mechanism can be trying to control the people around us, over-excercising and cleanliness bordering on OCD.
However, feeling in control and empowered by controlling something else can also be used for good too. Try to find an area in your life where a little more control can actually be heplful to you. Tidying and cleaning out your closets full of stuff, taking control over your finances or taking on a personal hobby or project where you get to be in charge can be good ways to cope.
The important keyword here is moderation. Be careful so that taking control doesn't end up controlling you.
5. Learn to lean on others
One of the most impactful things I have learned over the last year is to receive support and even ask for it when I need it. Basically, I think it all comes down to trust. Do you have people around you who you trust will take good care of you and your emotional needs? If the answer is yes – ask them for help. It that simple, and yet it isn't. But the truth is, you'll never learn how easy it is to ask for help if you never do.
If you don't have anyone in your life right now you can trust with your problems, you might want to consider finding somebody. From life coaches to therapists – to someone you don't know very well or just a stranger you feel drawn to; ask for help.
It really is worth the shame, the fear and the insecurity you feel. It really is worth it all, and more.
6. Have blind faith
Sometimes you just have to resort to faith.
You are on this earth for a reason, but you might not see it yet.
Do you ever feel like things are meant to be when something really good happens? I know I do. A lot. And why is it then that we don't trust the universe when something changes and we don't like how things are going?
Having faith and trusting you're on the right path goes both ways. You have to trust both the good and the bad.
You're getting there, lovely. Maybe not where you wanted - when you wanted it. But you really are on the right path. Just believe.
7. Let yourself grieve
Dealing with change really has a lot to do about grief. It doesn't matter if the change you are going through isn't the type of change involving death and loss – change is very much about grief.
Sometimes you have to grieve the life you thought you would have. Sometimes you have to grieve the future you're not going to live and the promotion you hoped for but now can't receive. Sometimes you have to grieve the marriage and the kids you dreamt of with the partner who is leaving you.
Change often involves broken dreams.
And they need to be grieved.
Give yourself time to get over the loss. Give yourself the care you would've given a friend who just lost somebody close to her. Don't take on too much. Focus on sleeping and eating. Be gentle with yourself.
What is your best advice for a friend who suddenly has to deal with challenging life changes?