At this time of year, stress appears to creep up faster than the New Year! Much like the festive season, stress is a recurring life event that comes to join us throughout the year. Stress is often linked to changes in life, and last year held no shortage of change – you may have experienced stress in the workplace or academic setting, within relationships, or due to the continually-changing COVID landscape.
The Way we View Change
Change is defined as the ‘act or process through which something becomes different’. The dictionary definition places no indication on whether change is a helpful or unhelpful situation, yet change is generally associated with negative events such as losing a job or the passing of a loved one. However, change is not always a bad thing. It can have many different impacts, including opening up new opportunities for us to explore. In fact, the way a change impacts will be dependent upon the way we view the change itself.
Naturally, change can evoke strong emotional reactions within us, such as feelings of anxiety or fear, but this can help motivate us to take action to change other things in our life. For example, getting fired may be an anxiety-provoking event, but it may motivate us to change our career path and explore what else is out there for us. That is not in any way to diminish the hardship that some changes can bring, but opportunity and growth are often present too.
When considering making change yourself, balanced thinking is a critical component - we do not need to become a perfect human overnight. When making changes, it is important to give yourself a break and don’t try to change everything at once – think about the change in the context of your current lifestyle. If you are going through a stressful period with lots of change, such as starting a new job, be mindful of letting that be your focus. If you are feeling overwhelmed at beginning a new role, maybe you don’t also want to change your gym or go-too takeaway for dinner too. Small changes are still changes, and they still help us to move closer to achieving our goals. Alternatively, it may be that change is what you are needing to regain a sense of control and empowerment within your life.
Did you know that the stress that comes along with change can actually be beneficial for us? According to Yerkes-Dodson Law, we function at our best when we are experiencing a healthy balance of stress and ease, because this increases our motivation and levels of concentration.
Check in with your feelings
However, that doesn’t mean it will always be smooth sailing when change occurs. Maybe the idea of changing your wardrobe layout was a simple and exciting task to begin with, but now it is overwhelming and leaving you feeling exhausted. Change can be scary, overwhelming, disorientating, and uncomfortable - but it can also be exciting, invigorating, inspiring, and stimulating. Throughout the process of change, it’s important to check in with yourself and make space for your feelings. All feelings around change are valid, and it is important for us to take time to recognise, acknowledge and accept these feelings. It’s in reflecting on these feeling that change can help us discover what’s important to us.
Helpful Steps As life is constantly changing, it can be helpful to have a plan of attack when you’re feeling uncertain, overwhelmed or ‘stuck’. Some of our favourite recommendations are:
Maintain as many of your normal routines as possible
Look after your physical health – get some sleep, maintain healthy eating routines, get some exercise
Connect with supportive people
Engage in activities that are meaningful to you – cooking, reading, volunteering, pursuing your interests
Speak with your mental health practitioner
Explore your comfort zone - what factors boost or limit your readiness to embrace this change?
Investigate your feelings - why is this change making you feel the way that you do? What is your body trying to tell you?
Plan a series of small, achievable steps to work through any challenges
Work on a more accepting and helpful internal narrative about your situation
Change is a natural experience – you can make it work for you. Take control of the change (or lack of) within your life, and don’t let it disrupt your wellbeing!