Adapting to Change Can Be HARD

But if change happens so frequently, why is it so difficult?

An ancient philosopher once said, “change is the only constant.” Whether it’s moving to a new city, starting a new relationship, changing jobs, or even getting a new pet, change is an inevitable part of life! But despite its inevitability, change is something that can cause us stress, even when those changes are positive.

If change happens so frequently, why is it so difficult? For one thing, humans are creatures of habit. Much of what we do daily–from putting on our clothes to driving a car–happens without us even thinking about it. Our brains don’t need to do a lot of work to carry out repetitive behaviors that have formed into habits–our unconscious brain takes over. But changing those routines is a different story. It requires focus and attention, and it makes our brain work overtime to adapt; we have to be intentional and make conscious choices. This explains why it’s so hard to stick to a New Year’s resolution or why your grandma won’t use the new iPhone you bought her–these changes demand new behaviors, and that’s a heavy lift for the brain.

And then there is the uncertainty that often accompanies change. Humans have never been big fans of uncertainty, and for good reason. Knowing what’s hiding in that rustling bush (a friendly bunny or a venomous snake) was important to our ancestors for survival. Having reliable information to help us predict what will happen next makes us feel safe. Even changes that can lead to new possibilities and opportunities, like graduating from college, may still cause anxiety. The chance to start your career is exciting, but at the same time the uncertainty of what that career will look like and where it will lead, can be scary.

I have had my fair share of change in my life–moving more than 17 times, changing jobs, taking care of an ill parent. And just this last year I got married and moved again, from Philadelphia to Raleigh, all within a few months. Aside from discovering that changing your name can be a difficult process, here is what I learned from adapting to change:

It’s ok to feel not so positive about positive changes: Starting a new job, welcoming a new child, even winning the lottery, are all incredibly happy moments! But they are also huge life changes and it’s ok to let yourself feel some negative emotions while you are adapting to a new way life. Don’t try to pressure yourself to feel a certain way just because that is how you think you should feel.

Focus on your frame of mind: Regardless of what the change is, try to see how it can help you grow. Managing and adapting to change is one way we learn new skills to make us more resilient. Approaching change as a growth opportunity can help you focus on the positive outcomes of that change.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself: When it seems like you don’t have control over what is happening, it’s easy to forget about your well-being, or even feel selfish doing something good for yourself. But it’s even more important to be vigilant about self-care during times of uncertainty. The more that you can stick to your wellness routines (workouts, diet, sleep schedule, etc.) the better equipped your body and mind will be to address change.

Connect with someone: Many of the changes we go through in our lives will undoubtedly affect our social networks in some way. Keeping your connections intact, even if they move from in-person to virtual, can help you feel grounded and supported during times of change.

Even if our biology doesn’t complement our constantly changing lives, at least we can make these transitions a little easier on ourselves. We may not ever fully embrace change, but we can always grow from it. 

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