Change will come, whether we wish it to or not. To fight it is like fighting the sunrise. Better to say, “Ah, welcome old friend. Here you are again.”
This quote actually comes from a children’s book that I’m reading, but it’s pertinent throughout life. If you’ve been anxiety-ridden like I have, you know that when things don’t go according to plan, you can panic. Change can mean internal changes in a person, or external changes in their environment. Why is change so hard? Humans are creatures of habit and learn to do what works for them. Notice I say, “what works,” i.e., minimal effort, not necessarily what is healthy for them. Habits are hard to break, but change comes into everyone’s life, forcing you to adjust. Some people require substantial pressure and maybe even deterioration of themselves before they will make a change while others are more flexible. Wherever you fall on that spectrum of flexibility, looking at your reactions to change is worth your time.
Do you shut down?
Do you jump all in and have faith in yourself?
Does it depend on the situation?
Do you know what triggers your anxiety response/activation?
Do you have unrealistic expectations of yourself?
Some people avoid change by avoiding new situations because they fear not being good at something right away. I have spent a lot of time due to anxiety, fighting the future and living in an autopilot state where I focus on the past and what I could have done instead of focusing on cultivating what I want right now. If you’ve done this too, try not to beat yourself up about it… that is also a waste of time and energy and robs you from enjoying the present moment (which your anxiety has done to you anyway!). You can stop that cycle by
- Doing a reality check. What is the likelihood that the change/thing you are worried about is going to be catastrophic? If catastrophic events have happened in the past and affected you and you are reading this … congratulations. You survived. And you can survive whatever is ahead of you.
- The trick is to get yourself to believe that. If you have anxiety, you likely have an enormous amount of energy, even if you don’t realize it. It takes so much energy to do “normal” things with anxiety, like interacting with cashiers. You are stronger than you think you are for getting up and being able to face the day even when you don’t want to. Recognize that you have your own resources to draw from when faced with change/a trigger.
- Change can be good, bad, neutral, scary, and on and on. Recognize that even if everything is taken from you, you still have the power to choose how you respond to situations. You can choose to respond with dignity and integrity. That doesn’t mean that you can’t feel broken at times, but it means that you choose to respect yourself and act in a way you can be proud of later (i.e., not lashing out at people, or doing things you’ll later regret). A great (yet extreme) example of this is Man’s Search For Meaning. Viktor Frankl writes about how everything was taken from him, literally every material thing, and the fact that he was a physician didn’t matter. Nothing saved him from the horrors of the concentration camps during the Nazi regime. Yet, he was able to observe that the people that survived kept hope alive by having a goal and preserving their integrity and “human-ness” during times of hardship and atrocities. Nothing and no one can rob you of your choice of how to respond and in reality, that is all you ever have anyway.
- Make manageable and realistic goals for yourself regarding an upcoming change. If it is sprung on you, make sure you have a list of healthy coping strategies that keep you level-headed. Don’t assume you will start exercising regularly when a change occurs, make it a part of your lifestyle when things are regularly calm. Don’t expect yourself to use healthy coping strategies only when crisis strikes, you have to be in the habit of doing them already.