This week we’re talking about how change of any kind (the good or the bad) can impact our health and productivity–and how we can adjust to make change a positive thing.
Adjusting to change can be difficult but in can be done
For those of us who are oriented to routine, change can be difficult. Humans in general tend to prefer the familiar. We like to stay in our comfort zone, which one article describes this way: “a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk” — the operative words here being stress and risk. In our comfort zone, there is a sense of familiarity, security and certainty. When we step outside of our comfort zone, we’re taking a risk, and opening ourselves up to the possibility of stress and anxiety; we’re not quite sure what will happen and how we’ll react.”
What happens when something occurs that forces change to our day-to-day life and disrupts the routines that help us keep a sense of equilibrium? We talked about this way back in episode 44, about Surviving (and Embracing) Change, but a recent major change in our life has me thinking about it and digging in again for help in coping.
Any kind of change–even a good change, even a change we’ve chosen–can disrupt our routines
- New spouse, new roommate, new baby
- Spouse retires or is ill or injured
- At work, a company merger or change in personnel or change in your role, moving to a new facility;
- Kids returning from college or in crisis of some kind
- Most of us experienced it when COVID kept everyone home
- A parent comes to stay (or is hospitalized and needs to be visited)
Whatever the change, even when it’s a change we’ve chosen, it disrupts our schedule and the routines we rely on to give structure and form to our days, leaving us feeling off-balance and stressed.
In my case, the major change we’re currently navigating in our house is one we specifically chose, but it has required changes to the day’s routines and “interruptions” to my normal way of doing things as another person in our household requires attention in the mornings and evenings when I normally would be following certain routines. This change also brings with it additional tasks and appointments and errands that have not been part of my days or weeks for many years.
On the other hand, if we’re experiencing a change that’s not one we’ve chosen, the stress might be compounded by the circumstances of the change–worry, anxiety, etc.
“According to health psychologist and Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., our negative perception around change can be more debilitating than the actual stressor itself.” [quoted in How to thrive when dealing with change]
“the human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When you experience changes or challenges (stressors), your body produces physical and mental responses. That’s stress.” [from a Cleveland Clinic article, Stress]
Effects of ongoing stress (from the Cleveland Clinic article mentioned just above):
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing.
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
- Headaches, dizziness or shaking
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Weak immune system
Emotional and mental
- Anxiety or irritability
- Panic attacks
How can we adjust to change so as to minimize the stress and retain our equilibrium?
“Two of the key tenets of coping with change are adaptability and flexibility. Adaptability is the way in which we alter our own previously held beliefs and notions to fit a new paradigm. For example, if your company has been acquired, you may have to adapt to an entirely different way of working. Finding acceptance and adapting when faced with inevitable change can lead you to a place of peace and resilience — especially when a change of structures and processes is not necessarily our own. Flexibility on the other hand is the process of meeting others halfway with the rollout of new procedures and ideas. Work, by its very nature, is in constant flux as businesses respond to the marketplace. Denial and resistance to this change create pain and tension. By remaining flexible, we allow both our fellow workers and ourselves to grow, evolve, and build resilience in the face of change.”
In addition, here are some ideas for practical steps we can take to adjust to change in a healthy way:
Acknowledge the change and its effects on your routine
Can you allow yourself to accept the change to your routine rather than resisting it, and perhaps see it as an opportunity to revamp your routine to a new, fresh, maybe even better version?
Prepare if you can (that is, if you know the change is coming)
- Adjust your schedule accordingly–clear out some white space to allow for what you’ll need to cope with the changed time demands and the stress of the change.
- Think about the routines you rely on, and consider what are the most important elements, the elements from which you get the most personal benefit. Then think about how to keep those elements in place even if your usual routines are disrupted by the change.
For example, is journaling or writing morning pages important to you, but your usual morning time is going to be disrupted? Can you choose another time to do it?
- Can you do an abbreviated version of your usual routine?
- Can you line up needed help or support ahead of time?
- Set boundaries (for others, but also for yourself). Don’t wait until you’re at–or beyond–the breaking point.
Manage your mind
This is about acknowledging the feelings – One article encourages us to quiet our minds: “In the midst of a change we fear, our thoughts can be our worst enemy. Be conscious of what your mind is telling you. Are your fears rational or are you possibly only allowing yourself to focus on the worst possible outcome? If calming your mind seems difficult you can try relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or deep breathing. . . . Getting active is a great way to clear your head too. Taking a little time away from the problem can help you gain control of your thoughts and help you evaluate the situation more clearly.”
Look for the positive. What’s good about this change? As Maya Angelou has said, “If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” I saw a quote on social media this week that encouraged me during a week when I was struggling with the effects of a major change in our life:
“Every day isn’t a good day. But there is good in every day, if you have eyes to see it.”
Train yourself to intentionally and consciously look for the good and then write it down–or say it out loud to yourself
One good thing about change–something I saw in an article on Huffpost: “While staying in your comfort zone can result in consistent, steady performance, stepping out of your comfort zone into a new and challenging task can create the conditions for optimal performance. Think about it: Did you ever do something you were really proud of when you were in autopilot mode?”
Focus on what you can control. (This is especially important in a change you didn’t choose, such as a major change at your workplace.)
In a helpful article on the Indeed website called How to Adapt to Change in the Workplace, the writer encourages us to “Allow yourself to b focus on the tasks and responsibilities you have complete control over. This shift in mindset, away from what you can’t control, can leave you feeling happier and more fulfilled. To help yourself focus on big projects or even big obstacles, try breaking them into small pieces. Ask yourself what you can achieve today and focus on the problem or project one piece at a time. The important thing is to only try to control things you can control.”
This writer goes on to encourage a positive spin on the change: “You can also take the opportunity to reflect on what you want from your career. Identify any skills you want to learn or further develop and add those to your list of goals to focus on. Knowing you can control your own professional development can increase your feelings of personal satisfaction, even as you find your workplace changing.”
Pay attention to and prioritize your physical health
This is key to managing the effects of the stress that comes with change.
- Make a point of choosing healthier food options during this time (difficult if you’re a stress eater, as I am). Drink plenty of water (we get dehydrated before we feel thirsty, and dehydration contributes to fuzzy thinking). Get some movement in–stress reliever–go for a walk outside if you can, even if it’s just for 5 minutes; sunshine and fresh air are even more important.
- Do everything you can to get enough rest to allow your body and mind to recover (again, difficult because often we have trouble sleeping during times of change).
- Do your best to enforce a reasonable bedtime
- If the change involves conflict with others, try to avoid weighty discussions or arguments in the evening
- Streamline your evening routine to allow time to prep yourself physically and mentally for bed
- I’ve been relying heavily on the Calm app to get to sleep–and get back to sleep when I wake up during the night
When you realize you’re feeling anxious or stressed, use whatever techniques help soothe you–maybe try deep breaths for 30 seconds or intentional relaxation of your tense muscles.
Look closely at your schedule
Pare way back for a while if you can. Honestly evaluate your commitments and appointments and distinguish the must-dos from the want- or ought-to-dos. With respect to obligations to other people, such as your supervisor, perhaps have an honest conversation and ask them what they believe to be the must-dos.
How can you rearrange things to accommodate the new? Make sure you include–purposely make time for–restorative activity–requires you to know yourself well, and what is restorative to you.
- Do you need to make space for quiet and solitude?
- Do you need to make time for social interaction?
Either way, make the time, even if it’s just in small increments
Look for ways to improve efficiency at the tasks you must do so they take up less of your day
- Batch tasks
- Definitely use the productivity tools that have worked for you; make sure you’re writing things down–the mind during these times is preoccupied, so don’t add to the stress by trying to hold things in your head.
Ask for and accept help
Don’t bear the load alone. You’ll tell yourself you’re the only one who can do it (or do it right), but we all have limits, and you’re not the only one who can do everything. Whether in your professional or personal life, ask for help.
Talk if that helps–to your spouse, to a good friend or a colleague, to a counselor, coach, or therapist. Someone else might be able to see solutions that you’re too close to see. Sometimes just talking through the challenges you’re facing will help relieve the stress
Give yourself grace
Do what you can, and give yourself time and space to adapt to the changed situation. Remember it won’t always be this hard. Eventually you will adjust to the change and settle into a new routine.
Find a mantra to soothe yourself:
“This too shall pass”
“I can do anything for a while”
Some final thoughts
I actually was comforted by what I learned as I started researching for this episode, because I found there are scientific reasons for why change is hard for most of us–which means my struggles with adapting to a major change in my life don’t mean there’s something wrong with me! And I was encouraged to find lots of suggestions for ways to cope with the stress and emotions while my mind adjusts to the change.
If you’re in a similar situation–if you’re experiencing, or about to experience, a change that’s disrupting your routines, pushing you out of your comfort zone, and maybe throwing you for a bit of a loop–give yourself time and grace. I’ll bet you’re doing better than you think you are
What do you think?
Resources and Links
- Stress: Signs, Symptoms, Management & Prevention
- Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Emotional Distress | SAMHSA
- Adjusting to Change: Adapt and Overcome – Centerstone
- 5 Tips to Help You Adapt to Change I Psych Central
- How to Thrive When Dealing with Change
- How To Adapt To Change in the Workplace (6 Methods) | Indeed.com
- Surviving (and Embracing) Change – TPW044 – The Productive Woman
- 6 Reasons To Step Outside Your Comfort Zone | HuffPost Life
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Royse City, Texas