Mental Health

6 Ways to Cope and Deal With Change

Do you hate change? So do we! Thankfully, our experts share the best ways to cope with grit and grace.

It is scary. Let yourself feel.

Change is destabilizing by nature, especially when we’re dealing with so many transitions at once. “When everything from our job outlook to our financial future is shifting, we can feel paralyzed,” confirms expert Lisa Lahey, Ed.D.

But simply naming how you feel can move you into a more proactive frame of mind. “Rather than tell yourself, ‘I’m scared of change,’ say, ‘I feel scared about these changes.’ This helps you see yourself as having the feeling rather than being the feeling,” she says. Then you can begin to problem-solve.

Release expectations.

Spend some time grieving what you may have lost, from changes to your routines to upended plans for the future, advises motivation expert Jill Sherer Murray. Acceptance of change is a process we work through in stages — only by allowing yourself to be sad can you begin to let in joy.

Find real silver linings.

Look for small ways recent changes have made you more flexible, urges Lahey, revealing that she’s learned she’s more creative than she realized, coming up with recipes with what’s in her pantry and inventing new ways to communicate with her students online. “When we think of change as a big boulder, it can feel crushing — but when we acknowledge the little pebbles of change we deal with every day, we become stronger.”

Recall past victories.

Reflecting on how you’ve overcome past challenges helps build confidence that you can tackle the biggest transitions ahead. “Think back on when a change you may have at first resisted turned into an unexpected blessing,” says Lahey. Replaying these moments like a mental movie calms anxiety by reminding you that nothing is permanent and you can succeed.

Picture a bright future.

One of the best ways to build our “change confidence” is by envisioning the worst-case scenario. Just jot down what could go wrong and see yourself taking steps to overcome the challenge.

That narrowed focus puts the brakes on stress and spurs you to act. Says licensed therapist Kathleen Smith, Ph.D., “You can’t control what will happen this year, but you can shape the version of yourself you bring into that future.”

Lean on your team.

Studies show that those who are best at dealing with life’s curveballs have a “team” behind them — even a team of one. “Looking to someone you admire and getting their advice on how they dealt with changes in their lives can inspire you to craft your own action plan,” reveals Sherer Murray.

Listen to how they handled change in their lives and see what resonates with you, adds Lahey, who says that like joy and hope, resilience is contagious.

Our Expert Panel

Lisa Lahey, Ed.D., author of Immunity to Change and An Everyone Culture, is a faculty member at Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Jill Sherer Murray, author of Big Wild Love: The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go, is founder of Let Go For It. More at LetGoForIt.com.

Kathleen Smith, Ph.D., author of Everything Isn’t Terrible, is a licensed therapist who runs a private practice in Washington, D.C. More at KathleenSmith.net.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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