Change may be the only constant in life, but for many people, it can also be a significant source of stress and anxiety. Major life changes can be particularly difficult to cope with because they reorganize our world in ways that can’t be fully predicted or planned for in advance. The ending of a relationship, the birth of a child, moving to a different city or country, the transition to retirement, and the loss of a loved one are all examples of changes that not only shift our circumstances but also deeply alter how we may perceive our identity and sense of selfhood.
From a psychological perspective, we know that learning to cope well with change not only reduces the incidence of anxiety and depression, but also provides a valuable opportunity to build resilience. The following strategies provide a crucial foundation for surviving major life changes:
Surviving Big Life Changes
1. Translate big changes into small steps.
The uncertainty and lack of control surrounding any major change is often overwhelming, so it’s important to focus on tangible tasks and take a manageable, day-by-day approach. When we experience anxiety about change, we become very future-oriented, worried about different possible outcomes rather than being rooted in the present. Adhering to existing parts of your routine that anchor the day, including those focused on a healthy diet, exercise, and regular sleep patterns, can help to alleviate anxiety and provide a sense of stability in the present.
2. Lean into your support network.
Coping with major life change alone is isolating and it compounds the risk of experiencing significant anxiety, depression and other psychological problems. When we are dealing with overwhelming thoughts and emotions surrounding change, we need the empathy and connection we get from those people in our lives who will listen non-judgmentally and help us to tap into an inner resilience. Trusted family and friends, a community support group, and/or a qualified therapist can all be crucial allies for navigating life’s upheavals.
3. Accept the ambivalence of change.
We often think of change as either wholly positive or negative, but in reality, most life transitions contain shades of both elements. Though we may expect to feel unreservedly positive about the birth of a child or the start of a new career, it’s normal to feel ambivalence as each also entails the loss of what came before and the stress of adjusting to a new way of life. Similarly, it is common to experience many conflicting feelings when grieving a loved one. Cultivating acceptance and self-kindness around the shifting feelings that accompany change is an important way to support your mental health as you learn to survive—and perhaps even to thrive—in the face of life’s major changes.
By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.