Change is hard, especially when it comes without warning. But it's important to remember that you are not alone — dealing with the unexpected isn’t easy for any of us. We reached out to a handful of experts for tips to overcome the stress, so you can hit life’s curveballs out of the park.
Let yourself off the hook.
The number-one question psychologist Suzanne Degges-White hears from women struggling with change: Is it normal to feel this way? The answer is yes.
“We’re hardwired to crave predictability,” she says. “And when something upsets that, our brain perceives danger.” One way to get past this roadblock is to reach out to loved ones who’ve dealt with similar challenges and ask how they managed. “When change happens, all of our mental energy goes to it, so we lose a wider perspective. Stepping back to see how others handled it and how it fits into the bigger picture increases your confidence.”
Practice mini moves.
While it’s natural to resist uncertainty, shutting the door completely on change can keep us in a rut. The remedy? “Start with micro changes,” urges psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne. “Consider taking a walk in a new neighborhood or visiting a different café — small shifts feel good, priming us to be more comfortable with bigger changes.”
Restore your balance.
When the unexpected knocks us off kilter, it’s important to take the time to center ourselves, observes life coach Jocelyn Kuhn. “Whether you meditate or soak in a bubble bath, pausing for moments of self-care will help you manage the stress of life’s ups and downs.”
Shatter the “glasses.”
Change often makes us idealize the past, says Degges-White. “Crack the rose-colored glasses by asking yourself if things really were that great. If you lost your job, for example, did you love it or will you now be free to find fulfilling work? Looking back with clarity uncovers opportunities in the change.”
Outsmart identity shift.
Some of the hardest transitions affect our self-image, like feeling the aches of getting older, notes Krauss Whitbourne. “People who thrive tend to engage in realistic optimism — acknowledging challenges but reminding themselves they can handle it.”
In fact, when she asked study participants how the aging process was changing how they see themselves, the happiest folks weren’t the ones who answered, “I’m no different,” but those who said, “I’m achier yet I still enjoy most activities I love.” “It’s natural to struggle some days,” she says, “but you do have the tools to persevere.”
Find your meaning.
We can empower ourselves through even the most difficult transitions by “making meaning from the event,” says Degges-White, citing the example of a woman who was blindsided by a divorce. Shortly afterward, the woman was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.
What happened next may surprise you: “She said the divorce came when it needed to because it freed her, so she could focus on getting well; she had a bigger challenge that needed her full attention. This story reminds me that the wrong things aren’t supposed to last — the right things endure.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.