Life is change.
Even though we know this on an intellectual level, dealing with uninvited changes can often be a struggle for many people. While change is the thing which allows anything and everything to come into existence to begin with, it’s often unwelcome, especially when it comes unexpectedly or at an inconvenient time.
I should know! In the last 12 months, I became a father, moved to a new country, lost my job and started a business. Most of those changes were voluntary, but one of them was not and had negative impacts and consequences for the other three.
I’ve had to learn how to deal with change in healthy ways. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
5 Coping Mechanisms for Dealing with Change
Keep Perspective – Perhaps one of the best ways to deal with change is to take a deep breath and remember to keep things in perspective.
While whatever is happening may seem like a big deal now, will it really matter in 5 years? How about 10 years from now? What about 20?
Looking at the bigger picture has a way of taking what appears to be an unscalable mountain and turning it into a manageable molehill. Don’t freak out. From the moon, even Everest is a speck of dust!
Look at the bigger picture. This isn’t as serious as you think.
Be Present – One of the most torturous elements of change is that our minds go into hyper drive, guessing, predicting, thinking about what might happen, second guessing potential decisions and engaging in an endless game of ‘what if’.
The irony is that none of what is running through our minds is real!
All of this anxiety-inducing mental imagery can be stopped by practicing presence. To do so, simply bring your focus and attention back into the present moment. Don’t allow your mind to wander. Look around you, take a deep breath, center yourself, and realize that 99% of what is running through your mind is merely imaginary.
Remember what Mark Twain said: “I’m an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
Recognize that your mind is running away with itself, and bring it back into the present moment, where everything is usually OK.
Accept not Knowing – This is one of the most difficult things for human beings to do. To walk into the future unafraid, knowing that you simply do not know what is going to happen next is very difficult for us to do.
Yet, to use a great analogy, you can drive right across the country from New York to California in the dark, as long as your headlights work well enough to allow you to see the 40 feet in front of you!
You don’t need to know what’s going to happen all the way to the end. Even if you think you do, it likely won’t play out like that anyway. Accept that change has happened and thrown you on an uncharted course, and that you can only see the next few steps at most.
You’ll get where you’re going. Just accept that you don’t necessarily need to know where that is, and you’ll survive.
Practice Right View – The Buddhists have a mental technique known as ‘Right View’.
This technique is used by Buddhists to stamp out mental suffering, which is precisely what change usually brings when it occurs unexpectedly. Right view consists of getting an accurate picture both of how things are, and how things used to be, rather than the exaggerated view our minds tend to cook up and serve.
Have you lost a job? Reflect on how that job had both good and bad sides, and you’ll begin to feel more neutral about losing it.
Have you broken up with a partner? Rather than pining after that person, focus on the fact that they had both good and bad qualities. Don’t just remember all of the good sides, but remember what used to really bug you, too. Reflect on the fact that this new situation of being single has a good side, and that anyone you meet in the future will also have good and bad qualities.
Right view helps you to maintain a balanced and accurate view of things, which can help you get over nostalgia for the past and resistance to both the present and the future.
It helps you see both the good and bad in every situation, person, place, and thing. Your feeling and emotions towards that person, place or thing will then level out and be more balanced.
Connect with Nature – There’s something about nature which has an automatic calming effect on humans.
Whether it be watching the mighty ocean crash onto the shore or wandering through a thick, dense forest, nature has a way of helping us disengage from our rampant, incessant over-thinking, while at the same time helping us recognize and understand that life is so much bigger than we are, and that we are just a part of a mysterious and unfathomable tapestry of staggering complexity and beauty.
This is turn helps us to set aside our problems, accept the change which life has foisted upon us, and accept that even if we don’t like them, there’s not much we can do about it anyway since life and nature are so much bigger and more powerful than we are.
When I face huge problems, connecting with nature brings me a great deal of peace. I take one look at the endless ocean and realize I am a speck of dust blowing around on a rock, or I look at a single 1000-year-old tree and realize that while things seem chaotic and unstable now, life will go on.
Change is life, and life is change. If the seed didn’t become the stalk of grain, and the grain didn’t become the cereal, and the cereal didn’t break down and become energy, life would not even exist to begin with.
We don’t always like change, but it’s going to happen either way. While we do have the power to bring about change, sometimes change happens due to factors beyond our control and we just have to deal with it.
Using the above techniques, we can better accept and navigate change when it occurs.
Whatever you’re going through, you’ll get through this and a whole new dawn will come. I wish you well.
G writes on Men’s health, fitness and self-improvement at Art of Selfhood. He currently lives in Asia and spends his days writing and raising his family.