Coping with Change
Posted on 8th June 2021 at 11:05
By Julie Wales, Family & Special Needs Counsellor
Change comes in many forms but leaving behind what we know and are used to is almost always stressful, even if we've made the change ourselves.
Coping strategies generally fall into two categories: "escape" and "control." Most people use a mixture of both to cope with change, but control strategies are generally a healthier way to work through change and offer the greatest long-term benefits.
Escape coping is based on avoidance. You take deliberate actions to avoid the difficulties of the change. This strategy keeps anxiety for longer. For instance, you might deliberately miss a social event that you know people are going to that make you feel ‘not good enough’.
Maybe you'll ignore letters or bills that you cannot face. Some teenagers may refuse to go to school because of high anxiety. Some people even take refuge in alcohol or drugs.
Control coping, on the other hand, is positive and proactive. You refuse to behave like a "victim" of change. Instead, you manage your feelings, get support, and do whatever you can to be part of the change.
Most of us respond to major change with a mixture of escape and control coping. But control coping is generally the better option, as it is impossible to avoid the reality of change for long without becoming exhausted or prolonging your anxiety. People are more likely to progress through these stages successfully if they acknowledge their feelings, explore the facts, stay positive, draw on their support networks, and give themselves time to adapt.
Stages of Reacting to Change
Change can be difficult because it can challenge how we think, how we work, the quality of our relationships, and even our physical security or sense of identity. We usually react to change in four stages:
Shock and disorientation.
Anger and other emotional responses.
Coming to terms with the "new normal."
Acceptance and moving forward.
But our progression through these stages is rarely simple or linear. We might get stuck in one stage or advance quickly but then regress. And there is often no clear-cut, decisive move from one stage to another. Shock can change to anger, for example, with no obvious break between the two.
1. Shock and Disorientation
Experiencing a sudden, big change can feel like a physical blow. A sudden bereavement or health issue may change your fundamental outlook on life.
In the initial stage of coping, you'll likely feel confused and uncertain. Your priority should be to seek reliable information and to make sense of the situation.
2. Anger and Other Emotional Responses
Initial disorientation at the prospect of change usually gives way to a wave of strong emotions. You might be angry about a diagnosis for your child or loved one or fearful about the impact that has on future aspirations and the impact on your family.
Even if the change in your circumstances is something that you've instigated yourself, you may find yourself swinging between optimism and pessimism. This is quite natural, and it's a normal step on the way to resolving your situation.
It's important to avoid suppressing your emotions, but it's equally key to manage them. So, acknowledge the way you feel, but be sure to assess what you can express openly (such as anxiety about your child’s progress) and what you should probably keep to yourself (angry opinions about a doctor or teacher’s performance. Instead talk over your anxiety with them and seek a win, win).
3. Coming to Terms with the "New Normal"
During this stage, your focus will likely start to shift away from what you've lost and toward what's new. This process may be slow, and you might be reluctant to acknowledge it, but it's an essential part of coping with change. The key here is to make a commitment to move on.
Start to explore more deeply what the change means. Your instinct may be to behave resentfully and to be unwilling to cooperate, but this may cause yourself and others harm. So, search for and emphasize the positive aspects of your developing situation. At the same time, be patient. Remember, coming to terms with change is a gradual process.
4. Acceptance and Moving Forward
This is the stage when you come to fully accept your changed circumstances. Acceptance doesn't mean giving up entirely on your former situation. You'll have valuable memories, skills, and relationships to carry forward, but the point is that you are moving on. It may bring you hopefulness and you start to adapt and adjust to your child and family situation.
People are more likely to progress through these stages successfully if they acknowledge their feelings, explore the facts, stay positive, draw on their support networks, and give themselves time to adapt.
I can liken this to the adaptation process or journey of my parenting journey of caring for a child with disability.
Please note that you may never accept your child’s diagnosis or disability but learn to cope in better ways that are right for you.
The early years with our son were about our increasing adaptation and highs and lows, and level of reaction as on the table shown.
Certain medical scans and procedures would put us into shock and sadness and his diagnosis of Fragile X Syndrome initially kept us in denial, anger and anywhere in between the stages of grief. But with time and living through each stage of his development until his adulthood now, we slowly came to realism about his future and what he could do. This then informs our coming to terms of how life will pan out for him and us, his parents. Self-Care is crucial and laughing at the silly stuff!
Over the last 14 months the Covid pandemic has meant a lot of people have been grieving for the loss of loved ones. A living grief has also been part of our lives living during Covid which meant loss of freedom, and loss of social connection.
The important thing is not how often we fall but how often we get up again and use our coping strategies to not only survive but thrive. That thriving has certainly been important to my parenting and personal journey over the last 20 plus years.
Some Coping Strategies to Think About:
In what ways can you Build Resilience?
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from changes by focusing on the silver lining rather than being knocked down. We all need support to be able to not only survive but thrive. Tell yourself “I have survived before”, I can do it again and come back stronger than ever”.
Be Aware of Your Feelings
The moment you recognise your feelings, you are opening yourself up to different strategies to manage it. Make a list of triggers for your self-doubt and fear. Select one trigger at a time. Pause for a moment to take three to five slow, deep breaths from the belly, and allow yourself to relax. Keep your eyes closed and focus on your breath. Scan your entire body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, finding and releasing any tension or tightness. Take note of any sensations. Accept and acknowledge the feelings.
Find Support Groups
There are many others who share the same fears as you especially when we all are facing a global crisis. By sharing your concerns, you will discover that you are not in this alone, which makes the fear more tolerable. Seek support from those who identify with your issues and have effectively conquered them. You might even benefit from joining a virtual support or local group. Remember that life is not struggle-free, and these circumstances can help you to grow.
Find Reason to be Positive and Grateful
Gratitude is that one habit that can make all the difference in your daily life and can be a powerful weapon against heartbreak. It’s a practice that can eliminate half of your stress straight away. Remember, every day you have a choice. The choice to wake up happy and content, or to wake up complaining about what you don’t have enough of. Try writing a gratitude journal to boost your mood when things are difficult.
Be Adaptable and Seek New Ways to Learn
Think of ways that you can adapt or things that you can do to make the change easier. If what you do doesn’t work, test something different. Also remind yourself to have realistic expectations. Know that you probably will not like the disruption at first, but that you will adapt.
Believe in yourself by Rewiring Your Brain
If you keep telling yourself that you can do something, you will be amazed to see how well your brain cooperates in reaching that goal. And that’s precisely why repeatedly feeding your brain with positive affirmations is important in these challenging times. Self-Belief is crucial because, if you believe that you can do something, you will. A mood board or regular visualisation of what it is you want can really help to manifest your goal.
Self-Question Limiting Beliefs
Do you feel stuck in unhelpful thinking habits? Feeling Judged by others, Inner Critic telling you negative things, comparing, and despairing yourself to other people who appear to have ‘perfect’ lives. Do you need to reframe and let go of memories from the past that no longer serve you right now?
Use The Brain Flip
The minute I find myself encountering a negative thought, I count to three and immediately flip it, or replace it, with a positive thought. For example, a thought like, "How am I going to survive weeks in self-isolation?"
3…2…1... insert the flip: ‘I love the freedom and flexibility I now have! There is so much I can do now that I am at home, things I didn’t get a chance to previously do and if nothing else, I can always catch up on sleep!’
You see? Try changing an unhelpful perspective to a more helpful and happier perspective. Start with one. Typical examples include "I am safe at home" instead of "I am stuck at home". This has certainly helped me to move through emotions lately with a family member.
Be kinder to yourself and give yourself regular self-care breaks. Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs we will do, especially so caring for a child/adult with special needs.
Laugh Heartily and Often
Practise Mindfulness, Meditate & Exercise
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