Endings And Beginnings: How To Handle Change With As Little Stress As Possible
As humans, we like to feel comfortable and that we are in control of our lives. We may try to prevent change from happening, since change equals the unknown, and we can’t control the unknown. When we can’t control something, our biggest fears can surface, paralyzing us and making the change even more difficult.
Just the word “change” can cause stress in people!
We may dig in and resist the change, fight it, or deny it. So we stay in the job that we hate, or in the relationship that makes us doubt our own self-worth, or in the community that doesn’t make our heart sing because we tell ourselves that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.
When We Resist Change
When we respond this way to change, we make things more difficult for ourselves (and increase our stress levels and potentially bring in other not-so-fun things like depression, resentment or anxiety). When we are not open to change, we:
- May miss opportunities for help or guidance because we are not open to hearing them because we are in denial about the change.
- Can attract more negative stuff to us. Have you ever noticed that when you are in a bad mood, more “bad” stuff seems to come your way? Even if you don’t believe in the law of attraction, you have to admit that your perspective tints everything that you encounter, and if you start with a negative perspective, everything you look at will be negative.
- Can’t clearly see the realities of our current situation that is in the process of changing. So we may begin idolizing our ex after the relationship has ended, focusing on only the wonderful times and conveniently forgetting the negative aspects of the relationship that caused pain, for example.
- May get “stuck” in the past, remember how something used to be, rather than seeing what is in front of us right now.
- Make the change process last longer than it needs to be because we are resisting it and increasing our discomfort at the same time.
How Change is Helpful
And yet, how many times have you heard someone say, “At the time, it wasn’t what I would have wanted for my life, but today I am so happy that it (the change) happened. I wouldn’t be doing or having “X” today if it hadn’t happened.”
Change happens to help us move to something even better for our lives…even if we can’t see it at the time.
I believe that we are here on this planet to learn, grow and evolve and that we are given opportunities to do so — often through change. From a shamanic perspective, change is an opportunity to go deeper into one’s own consciousness and discover who we are at our core. (A shaman is someone who works with the spirit world to practice divination and help individuals and communities heal at a spiritual level.) Change provides the extra “prod” we need to evolve. And, unfortunately, that “prod” usually has to be uncomfortable so that we pay attention and get up off our butts to do something different.
In 2009, in the middle of the recession, I was working for a small consulting firm. We didn’t have any new projects coming in and money was tight. When a project ended, the people on the project were put on a 3-month furlough without pay. If the company got a project in within 3 months of furlough, you could go back to work at the same level/pay as prior to the furlough. When my project ended, I was put on furlough. At the time I owned two houses. While I had some money in savings, I knew it wasn’t going to last long with two mortgages. I freaked. I immediately cut back and canceled as many services as I could. I spent hours every day sending out resumes to every possible job out there. After two months of sending out resumes, I hadn’t gotten a single response. To say that I was in a place of fear would be an understatement!
And then one day I shifted my entire perspective of the change that was being forced on me and looked at my time on furlough as a gift. I realized that I had complete freedom and could use the time to do what I wanted. I took a look at my airline miles and hotel points and booked a free two-week trip to Japan. I figured that I would need to buy food wherever I was, so why not do it in a country that I had always wanted to visit? And, since breakfast and happy hour snacks and beverages were included with my hotel, I would actually be saving money!
I went on my trip, had a great time, and embraced the “time off” my furlough gave me. When I landed back in San Francisco, there was an email from my firm waiting for me. They hadn’t gotten any projects in and were laying me off. They had decided to institute a severance program (something they hadn’t done previously) and were going to give me six months pay. I focused on being grateful for the severance rather than fearing the lack of work. Less than two weeks later, I got a job.
Work Through the Change
Did I want to lose my job and have the risk of losing my home? Of course not. I wouldn’t have chosen getting furloughed and laid off for myself. The situation was a lesson in trust for me and in how to release fear. I truly believe that by embracing the uncertainty and viewing it as an opportunity to do something different, everything fell in place. And, once I was able to remove the fear, I was able to admit to myself that the firm I had been working for was moving into an offering direction that didn’t align with my interests or passions. Getting let go really was a great thing for me — it helped eliminate potentially years of being unhappy in a job.
When I think of change now, I view it as an ending and a beginning. Change is the transition point between the two. This gives me hope that the new thing coming in, the new beginning, is going to be better in some way and that there is some type of life gift for me. I look at the new beginning as one filled with infinite possibilities. Of course, it is a time of change, so feelings of fear or nervousness or difficulty are normal, but I’ve found that I feel much more positive. I look for the opportunities, look at what is ending more objectively, and can see my future more clearly.
So how can you work through the fear or difficulty during change?
- Start by recognizing that you are transitioning between an ending a beginning. Sometimes just saying that you are going through a change can bring calmness.
- Give yourself permission to feel what you need to feel. If you need to mourn the loss of the ending, mourn it. If you feel angry about what is ending, feel angry. Allow yourself to express your emotions and let them flow through you so that they don’t weigh you down.
- But — this is key — don’t get stuck in your emotions or become a victim to what is changing. You are strong and can tap into that strength so that you have hope and positivity for what is going to beginning in your life.
- Look for old fears or limiting beliefs as you transition. What is coming up for you? Is this ending and beginning an opportunity for you to put to rest something that you’ve carried around for years?
- Look for ways that you have gotten through something similar in the past. When I quit my consulting job a couple years ago, it was stressful for me. I was worried about making enough income to support myself, but then I remembered when I was furloughed and how everything fell into place. This gave me a sense of personal strength and even familiarity with the situation. The change I was going through did not feel like a complete unknown.
- If you don’t have a personal experience you can draw from, look for examples of how other people have done so. This could be a family member, friend, someone you look up to or admire, or even a total stranger. Seeing that others have gotten through a transition and a beginning can give you confidence — and even ideas! — that you can get through the change too.
- Don’t be afraid to ask others for help if you need it during the transition. I relied heavily on a couple friends when I was transitioning from San Francisco apartment dweller to nomad and then to San Francisco/Guatemala dweller. I truly believe that people want to have the opportunity to help one another, but don’t know how to offer or ask. As someone who is really independent, it was difficult for me to ask for help at first. I felt that my requests (can I store my car at your place, would you mind getting my mail?) would be a huge burden. I was wrong! My family and friends were happy to help and be part of my journey.
- Look for the gift in your situation. This will help give you hope, and at times, maybe the one thing that keeps you moving forward if you are in a really tough time. Know that things will get better and that you will get through the transition.
- Ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen?” Really play through this in your mind. For me, when I quit my job, the worst that could have happened would be that I would end up homeless, living on the streets, with no food and no one caring about me. Ridiculous, of course! But I allowed myself to go there and really feel my worst fear. Once I had a clear picture of it, I began to poke holes at it, and came up with many reasons why my fear would never become a reality. I developed a list of options: I could move in with my mother, I could couch-surf with friends in San Francisco, I could go back to work in consulting, etc. And here’s the really funny thing about my fear of homelessness — as a result of quitting my job and taking time traveling around the world, today I own a home in Guatemala that is completely paid for. Homelessness is no longer an option!
- Consider creating and holding some type of ceremony to honor the change you are going through. Ceremonies are part of a number of our major life changes — high school and college graduations, weddings, divorce, baptisms and other celebrations to welcome a new family member, and even funerals — and can be a way to recognize what you’re accomplishing through the change.
Change can be stressful, but shifting our perspective can help us navigate through change as positively as possible.
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