The impact of change: finding a new equilibrium

impact of change - wilderness with no discernible path

In this post I consider the impact of change – significant personal change – and what we can do to cope with this kind of change in our lives.

It’s January as I write, the start of a New Year and, unsurprisingly, I’ve been thinking back over the year that has just passed, and in particular the impact of the changes that have happened.

For me and my family it has been a pretty big year.

We moved from Australia to Scotland. We took the kids out of school and away from the lives that they’ve known since birth. We took my wife away from her home country and we moved to the other side of the world.

And although I’m from Britain, I’ve never lived in Scotland before and I’ve had to start a new job in a new organisation, in a different role, in a different city.

So pretty much everything has changed for all of us.

I’ve written quite a lot about the subject of change because it is something that is becoming more and more the norm for all of us all in our working lives. The reality is that it is exceptional when things are not changing in most organisations.

Indeed the organisation that I’ve joined is itself going through a period of huge change that started before I got there will continue throughout the coming year.

But, the truth is we’ve been struggling quite a lot as a family, as we get used to the impact of change – living in a new place, trying to build up new contacts, new routines and so on. And it has been been quite instructive for me, and quite challenging too, to see first-hand how this change is affecting those around me – the people that I love.

I was discussing this with my wife, talking over some of the difficulties that we’ve had and, as we talked, an analogy came to mind that helps explain what we’ve been going through.

It seemed to me that this kind of significant change is a bit like being taken blindfolded and set down in a wilderness far from home.

You don’t know where anything is, there are no paths and no signposts to anywhere.

You have to decide where you want to go and you have to cut the path through the wilderness as you go. Sometimes you go off in the wrong direction and you have to come back and start again, thinking carefully about what might be the better direction to go in.

And eventually you do begin to carve out these paths and the more that you use the paths, the easier they are to travel on and the more familiar the journeys become.

Change is hard because we are grappling with the unfamiliar.

The things that we do habitually we can do without any real thought because we’re used to doing them. Thus, there is no struggle in working out what to do in the morning as you shower, brush your teeth and so on, because these are routines you are familiar with.

Yet, there is an increased cognitive load when you are working on things that you haven’t done before, within new systems and with different processes, or you’re building new relationships with new people.

These experiences are tough, but gradually, as you find your way through change to a kind of new equilibrium, you feel more comfortable and under less strain.

So what the last year has demonstrated to me clearly is that you can’t help but have struggles when you go through the change but that each step you take helps establish your new reality.

Here are some aspects of the psychological impact of change that are worth becoming familiar with if you are experiencing significant change in your life.

Factors Influencing the impact of change

Personality

Your personality plays a significant role in how you react to change. Some individuals may be more adaptable and open to new experiences, while others might find it challenging to let go of familiar routines. Your emotional stability and tolerance for ambiguity can also impact your acceptance and adjustment to change.

Mindset

The way you perceive change and your mindset towards it can influence your reaction. A growth mindset, where you believe that change offers possibilities for growth and improvement, will help you be more open and positive. On the other hand, a fixed mindset, thinking that change is threatening and should be resisted, can lead to increased anxiety and resistance.

Uncertainty and uncertainty bias

Uncertainty is an inevitable part of change, but it can be a source of stress for many people. Uncertainty bias refers to the tendency to focus more on negative aspects or the unknowns related to change, which exacerbates anxiety and might lead to unfavorable outcomes. By acknowledging and managing this bias, you can better cope with change and its associated uncertainties.

Support System

Having a strong support system, such as friends, family, and colleagues, can significantly impact your reaction to change. It’s crucial to engage with others who are going through similar experiences or who can provide emotional and practical support during challenging times. A strong support system has been shown to minimize stress and improve adaptation to change, contributing to more positive outcomes.

impact of change: butterfly

The impact of change: common emotional reactions

Stress and anxiety

When you experience significant change in your life, it’s natural to feel stress and anxiety. Changes can make you feel uncertain or create a sense of loss, which results in increased levels of stress and anxiety. To cope with stress, it’s crucial to identify your sources of stress and use healthy coping mechanisms, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, or seeking support from friends and family.

Depression

Significant changes can also lead to feelings of depression. I know from personal experience that this is especially true if the changes in your life involve loss, disappointment, or a sense of helplessness.

It’s important to recognise the signs of depression and seek help if needed, as untreated depression can have long-term consequences on your mental health. If you suspect that you are experiencing depression, it’s critical to reach out to a mental health professional.

Adjustment Issues

Adjusting to a significant change in your life can be challenging, and you might experience adjustment issues as you adapt to your new circumstances. These issues may manifest as emotional, cognitive, or behavioral changes.

For example, you might feel overwhelmed, have difficulty concentrating, or experience shifts in your sleep patterns. Learning healthy coping strategies can help you manage adjustment issues and ease the transition more smoothly.

Remember, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions when facing significant life changes. It’s important to acknowledge and address these feelings, and seek support if you need it. By doing so, you can maintain your mental wellbeing and ultimately thrive in your new circumstances.

Coping with Significant Change

Acceptance

Acceptance is a crucial step in coping with significant change. It’s important to acknowledge the change you’re facing, and understand that it’s a normal part of life. Embrace the fact that change can bring about new opportunities and growth. Remember, resisting change can only make the transition more difficult for you. So, try to be open and accepting of the situation, and start focusing on adapting to it.

Dealing with Change

When dealing with change, it’s essential to consider both the emotional and practical aspects. Emotionally, you should give yourself time and space to process your feelings. Communicate with others and seek support from friends and family, as they can provide valuable understanding and advice. Practically, explore the various options or strategies that can help you adapt to the change. For example, consider seeking professional guidance or attending workshops related to the change in your life.

Resilience

Building resilience is a critical aspect of coping with significant change. Resilience refers to your ability to bounce back from adversities and adapt to new situations. To cultivate resilience, try:

  • Practicing self-compassion: Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that change is difficult for everyone
  • Emphasizing self-care: Ensure you maintain a healthy lifestyle, exercise regularly, and get sufficient sleep
  • Maintaining a positive outlook: Focus on the potential growth and opportunities that the change may bring
  • Strengthening social connections: Engage with your support network, as strong relationships can help you navigate through challenging times

By developing resilience, you’ll be better equipped to face changes head-on and emerge stronger from the experience.

Impact of change on wellbeing and life satisfaction

Positive and Negative Impacts

Experiencing significant change in your life can have both positive and negative impacts on your wellbeing and life satisfaction. On one hand, changes such as starting a new job or moving to a new city can provide you with a sense of adventure and growth. On the other hand, changes like the Great Recession or the COVID-19 pandemic can have generally negative effects on well-being and increase the incidence of mental health issues. This is particularly the case amongst those whose life circumstances make them more vulnerable to negative effects of external change events.

Adaptation to Change

One of the keys to maintaining your mental health and life satisfaction during significant changes is adapting to new circumstances. This ability is often referred to as hedonic adaptation. You can strengthen your ability to adapt by developing healthy coping strategies and maintaining a support system of friends and family. Participating in activities like regular exercise can also help manage stress and improve your overall wellbeing during times of change.

To summarise, significant change can have both positive and negative impacts on your wellbeing and life satisfaction. Adaptation is key in managing these changes, and you can develop healthy coping strategies and engage in activities like exercise to maintain your mental health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to adapt to the impact of major life changes?

Adapting to major life changes requires flexibility, resilience, and a willingness to learn from the experience. It’s essential to allow yourself time to process the change, both emotionally and mentally. A support system – whether it’s friends, family, or professional help – can make a big difference in your adaptation process. Remember to maintain a balanced lifestyle, prioritize self-care, and focus on building your coping skills during the transition.

What are common psychological impacts of change?

Change can lead to a variety of psychological effects, including mixed emotions, stress, anxiety, and even feelings of grief or loss. It’s normal to experience these emotions when you face significant life changes, as your mind and body are adjusting to the new situation. However, it’s important to practice self-compassion, avoid negative thinking patterns, and reach out for support when needed.

What is adjustment disorder and how is it related to change?

Adjustment disorder is a psychological condition that occurs when a person has difficulty coping with a significant life change or a stressful event. It can lead to symptoms like anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems. Adjustment disorder is directly related to change, as it typically arises when the coping mechanisms you’ve developed are not adequate to manage the stress associated with the change. If you suspect you are experiencing adjustment disorder, it’s important to seek professional guidance.

Can change lead to anxiety disorders?

Yes, significant life changes can lead to the development of anxiety disorders, especially if you’re predisposed to anxiety or have a history of mental health issues. Feeling overwhelmed by change, experiencing chronic stress, or having inadequate coping mechanisms may contribute to the onset of an anxiety disorder. It’s vital to recognize the symptoms, seek help, and find ways to manage your anxiety during the transition.

How can one cope with significant transitions?

Coping with significant transitions requires a combination of patience, self-compassion, and proactive strategies. Accepting the change, finding social support, and identifying healthy coping mechanisms are essential steps. Additionally, maintaining a balanced lifestyle, focusing on your physical and emotional wellbeing, and learning stress-reduction techniques can help you manage the transition more effectively.

What are some strategies to deal with change-induced stress?

Dealing with change-induced stress involves recognising your emotions, seeking support, and implementing various stress-reduction techniques. Some effective strategies include practicing mindfulness or meditation, incorporating physical activity into your routine, engaging in hobbies or creative outlets, and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule. Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family, or a therapist for emotional support during times of significant change.

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