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10 Tips for Dealing With Difficult Changes in Work & Life

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Have you ever wondered why we set off fireworks on New Year’s Eve? This may surprise you, but it’s fundamentally about dealing with change.

Change is everywhere in our lives, but the New Year is a time when we consciously mark it. And change can be difficult and threatening to deal with. So we set off fireworks, make as much noise as we can, and hope that all that light and noise wards off the evil spirits and keeps us safe in the year to come.

dealing with change
Adjusting to change doesn’t have to be as stressful as it often is. (Image source: Envato Elements)

In this article, we’ll look at ten proven ways of dealing with change in the workplace and at home. You’ll learn how to control it where you can, and how to adapt to change when the changes are out of your control. You’ll learn to see the opportunities as well as the losses, and you’ll learn how to take care of yourself throughout the tricky process of adapting to change.

The techniques you’ll learn here will give you a much clearer understanding of how to cope with change. And they’ll certainly be a lot more effective than setting off fireworks. 

Why Adapting to Change Is Often Stressful

In business and in life, new situations can cause a lot of stress. Whether it’s a new boss to deal with at work or a loved one who seems suddenly to be behaving differently, change is inherently unsettling. 

Much of it is because your brain is hard-wired to be suspicious of change. Out in the savannah, a sudden change could have meant a lion creeping up on you. 99 times out of 100 it was just a gust of wind, but it paid to assume the worst, just for that one time when it was actually a life-or-death threat.

That’s why now, even though most change isn't life-threatening, we often react as if it is. We experienced heightened stress and anxiety, ready for “fight or flight,” and we don’t always take the time to analyse the situation logically. 

1. Know What You're Dealing With

The first step in dealing with change is to identify clearly what's going on. Too often, for the reasons discussed above, we just feel stressed out or generally anxious, without zeroing in on the real problem.

So step one in this guide is simple: clearly name the problem and acknowledge your emotional reaction to it.

For example, let’s look at one of the examples I mentioned earlier: a new boss. In one survey (via Yahoo Finance), 80% of respondents said a change in organizational leadership (e.g. new boss or division head) had an impact on their stress level.

If that’s something you’re facing, first acknowledge that it’s the cause of your stress. Then ask yourself what your reaction is. Do you have a problem with the particular person they’ve hired? Are you worried that the new boss will give you more work, or that your own job will now be at risk? What exactly is going on?

For now, don’t worry about figuring out how to deal with the change. We’ll get to that later. Just state what it is and how you’re reacting to it.

2. Take Control If You Can

There are two types of change: things you can control and things you can't. 

A new boss will usually fall into the category of “things you can’t control”. Unless you feel so strongly about it that you’re going to go to HR and try to block the appointment, you’ll probably just have to accept that the new boss has been hired. With things outside your control, focus on adjusting to change, not fighting it.

But there are plenty of situations in which you can take control. Even if the change is happening at least partly because of outside causes, there are things you can do to counteract it or to effectively influence the direction of the change. So an appropriate strategy here wouldn't be acceptance, but taking action.

For example, let’s say your marriage is on the rocks. You don’t just have to accept that you’re destined for divorce—you can arrange couples counselling, talk to your partner about the problems you’re having, do things to demonstrate your enduring love, make a conscious effort to spend more intimate time together, and so on.

So step 2 in coping with change is figuring out whether you can control it or not, and taking action where possible.

3. Accept What You Can't Control

On the other hand, when the change is out of your control, don't waste energy fighting against it. Learn to accept it, even if it's not what you want, and adapt to the new reality.

What if you run a successful small business, for example, and a huge corporation just entered your market and started directly competing against you?

A natural reaction might be to flail against the change, to complain to everyone within earshot that it’s not fair, that you can’t compete with a huge multi-national that will undercut you on price at every turn.

It’s a natural reaction, but not an effective one. The corporation has made its decision in head office and is unlikely to change its mind, no matter what you do or say.

So instead, accept the new reality and figure out how you can operate effectively within it. Once you’ve made that mental adjustment, you’ll find there are plenty of much more effective things you can do. Here are some ideas:

The important lesson here is that accepting change doesn’t mean doing nothing. It means adapting to change and fighting new battles instead of old ones.

4. Avoid Avoidance

Another natural reaction to change is to stick your head in the sand. Coping with change can be so threatening that sometimes you just pretend it's not happening at all. 

The bank is threatening to foreclose on your house, but you leave the letters unopened and tell your family everything’s fine. The business is teetering on the brink of insolvency, but you breezily embark on an expensive new product launch, ignoring all the warning signs.

A little escapism is harmless enough as a temporary fix, but when ignoring reality becomes a habit, you’re in big trouble. 

Instead, as tough as it is, confront the change head on and do what you need to do. Call the bank and ask to work out a new repayment schedule. Talk to your family (or, in the business example, your employees) about what’s happening. Stop trying to avoid change, and start dealing with change.

5. Take Care of Yourself

Dealing with change in the workplace and at home can be difficult and draining, so be compassionate with yourself. 

While you’re figuring out how to adapt to change and putting plans in place to survive and thrive in the new environment, you’ll need to make self-care a priority. 

As we saw, change is often stressful, so learn what you can do to reduce stress. It’s different for everybody, so trust your own experience, but things that tend to work well are exercise, healthy food, plenty of sleep, and taking refreshing breaks. Some people like to journal about their worries or to clear their mind through mindfulness meditation.

On the other hand, many of the crutches we often lean on in times of stress, like cigarettes, coffee or alcohol, can make things worse.

The bottom line is that physical and mental health are often linked. Take care of both your body and your mind as you go through the thorny process of coping with change.

Here are some more articles that could help you:

6. Get Support

You're probably not the only one affected by this change, so why go through it alone? Reach out to others in a similar position and get their support. 

For example, in the example of the small business threatened by a new, large competitor, there are probably other local companies in the same boat. Maybe you could get together and organize a special loyalty scheme for customers who choose to support local businesses instead of the out-of-town megacorp. 

In the bank foreclosure example, just talking to your family should immediately release much of the stress, as they can now support you emotionally and share the burden. And perhaps they can also share the financial burden and take on new jobs to help you make the next mortgage payment.

Whatever change you’re confronting, don’t confront it alone unless you absolutely have to. Getting support—whether emotional or practical (or both)—can help you figure out how to cope with change much more effectively.

Also, consider seeing a coach, therapist or other professional who can help you talk through it all. Reading articles like this can help, but when things get really tough, there’s no substitute for one-on-one help from an experienced professional.

7. Find the Positive

We tend to view change through the lens of fear, but often there's a positive aspect even to something that seems like bad news. 

Maybe the new boss will challenge you in ways your old boss didn’t, helping you to develop your career and do things you never thought you were capable of. Maybe the process of battling the big new competitor will help your business will get stronger.

Even something that seems unremittingly negative, like a failing marriage or a threat of foreclosure, can have positive outcomes. The bank’s letter could finally force you to deal with a gradual financial slide that’s been going on for years. Facing the prospect of a breakup may help you to breathe new life into your marriage—or the marriage may indeed fall apart, but you may start an exciting new chapter in your life afterwards.

You may well be rolling your eyes at this point. We’re so often urged to “look on the bright side” or “be more positive,” and it can feel false or dishonest to try to be positive about something bad.

But finding the positive doesn’t mean denying the negative and adopting a permanent smiley face. Dealing with change is a tough process, and the scenarios I’ve outlined may involve going through a lot of pain. Finding the positive simply means acknowledging that, amid the bad, there’s likely to be something good—even if it’s hard to find.

Look for those positive aspects and focus on them instead of indulging only in fear and negativity.

8. Find New Meaning

Coping with change is often difficult because it affects who we think we are and how we derive meaning. People who are rigid in how they define themselves will struggle as their old meaning is taken away and they can’t find a new one.

If you lose your job, for example, that’s likely to have a particularly hard effect on you if you define yourself by your work. But while losing a job is a particularly difficult change to deal with, it doesn’t have to be the end of the road.

Being flexible means adapting to new realities and finding new meaning. If you find a similar job, great! If not, then maybe you can do something else, even if that "something else" involves less money and status. Instead of “successful lawyer,” maybe you can be “struggling entrepreneur,” “loving parent” or any one of a number of new identities. 

The key thing to remember is that change is everywhere, and it may take away the outer things in your life (job, status, money, etc.), but it doesn’t have to change who you are and the things that are most important to you. It’s possible to hold onto your core personal values even amid the most dramatic upheavals. More on that in this tutorial:

9. Take Advantage of New Opportunities

How do you deal with change most effectively? Not by fighting it, but by taking advantage of the new opportunities it creates.

Think of the arrival of the internet. It caused huge disruption in almost every traditional industry and the disappearance or decline of very old, established business models.

Some companies died, and some new ones appeared. But many of the old, established companies weathered the storm and took advantage of the new opportunities available to them. They went online and started establishing whole new worldwide client bases to make up for the decline in sales from their brick-and-mortar stores.

Dealing with change is about more than just being defensive and surviving the negative effects. It’s also about seeing new opportunities and taking advantage of them. Think of yourself as a surfer, surrounded by a constantly moving ocean but bobbing around safely until you spot a wave and catch it.

10. Prepare for the Next Change

Once you've adapted to the change, don't get too used to the new reality. Change is constant, and you'll have to deal with more new situations soon enough. 

So take everything you've learned about how to handle change at work or at home, and prepare to apply it to the next challenge that comes your way.

How do you deal with change, and how effective are your strategies? See what worked and what didn’t. What did you learn about adapting to change? How successful were your coping strategies? How about the self-care techniques—what worked for you and what didn’t? 

Analyse what happened and how you reacted, and prepare yourself to deal with change better and better every time it comes around.

Conclusion: Adjusting to Change Effectively

As we’ve seen in this tutorial, adjusting to change doesn’t have to be as stressful as it often is. Successful strategies for dealing with change involve:

  1. clarity
  2. action
  3. acceptance
  4. confronting reality
  5. taking care of yourself
  6. getting support
  7. finding the positive
  8. making new meaning
  9. catching the next wave
  10. being prepared for the next time

Equipped with these techniques, you’ll know how to deal with change more effectively in future. You’ll probably still feel some discomfort, but you should be able to move through it and take action to navigate the changes successfully.

If you want to learn more, read some of our tutorials on dealing with stress in business. Happy New Year, and here's to some exciting, non-threatening changes in 2019!

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