By Cailin Crosby
The end of summer often feels like a time of transition. Whether you are beginning or going back to school, starting or ending work, adjusting to a shift in family dynamics, or simply attuning to the change in seasons, change can be simultaneously exciting and nerve-racking. While it’s totally normal to experience conflicting emotions related to change, this conflict can exacerbate any anxious or self-doubting thoughts you might already be having. Thoughts like: If I’m really excited about this, why am I feeling so anxious? Does all this stress mean I’m making the wrong decision?
Being able to sit with and hold space for both the excitement and the fear can be a skillful balancing act. But one does not need to cancel out the other. A certain level of stress or anxiety is normal when going through a big change and can actually be productive. What’s important is how we interpret and manage it.
Listening to and trusting yourself
Notice and be curious about anxious thoughts that come up. Chances are at the core of these anxious thoughts there is a protective part of you that doesn’t want to see you get hurt, embarrassed, or even feel uncomfortable. We are wired to look-out for and assess threats – whether physical or emotional. A big life change can often set off those alarm bells, triggering our well-intentioned response system to generate ‘what if’ and ‘worst case’ scenarios for us to prepare for. This doesn’t mean that those ‘what if’ and ‘worst case’ scenarios are more likely to occur; it just means that your brain and body are doing what they were designed to do – trying to protect you.
One way to help counter this natural response is to notice and remind yourself of all the strengths and resources you have available to you now to help you face those potential challenges. Consider all the things you may have already done or are doing to prepare for this change. For example, if you’re a student heading off to school for the first time, maybe you’ve already picked out your classes, secured your living situation, arranged your travel, searched for a part-time job, or researched your new school and city to find groups and activities you’re interested in.
Give yourself credit for all of the things you have been doing already, no matter how small. Allow yourself to notice this. We are quick to dismiss the constructive things we are doing and to focus instead on all the things we haven’t yet done. Acknowledging these actions is important as it helps communicate to the anxious part of you that there is also a completely capable part of you that is taking care of things.
Focusing on what you can control
When entering a new situation a lot of things may feel overwhelming or out of your control. A helpful strategy to cope with this is to shift your focus to what you can control. No matter what new situation or circumstance you are in, there will always be certain elements that are within your control.
For example, when starting at a new job, you likely can’t control things such as the physical work environment or the attitudes of your co-workers or boss. Nevertheless, being able to shift your focus to the things you can control — even if these feel like minor things — can be helpful. Things such as how you arrange your own personal workspace, how you choose to spend your lunch or break times, or how you choose to take care of yourself outside of work.
At times, things outside our control may become so overwhelming or agitating that it inhibits our ability to cope in this way. In these situations, you can still control how you choose to respond. This might look like proactively attempting dialogue with those causing distress or informing yourself of what options you do have to resolve the issue. If dialogue doesn’t feel safe or productive, this might look like establishing firmer boundaries or considering walking away from a situation where you’ve established resolution is not possible.
Intentionally focusing on the things that are within our control helps us get away from the negative loop of concentrating on all the things we can’t.
Regardless of the new situation you’re in, try to remember:
What you cannot control:
- The attitudes, actions, and responses of others
What you can control:
- How you respond to the above
- How you take care of yourself
- How you spend your time and energy
Going through a big life change can be hard. Going through it alone can be even harder. If you’re struggling with a new situation reach out to your friends, family, or other support people in your life. Connecting with people who are sharing in your experience or who simply offer you a positive distraction and outlet can be a great way to navigate change.
If it’s accessible to you, consider working with a therapist. If you’re at a new job, find out whether your workplace has an employee assistance program that offers counselling. If you’re starting school, look into mental health or academic counselling supports being offered. If you’re moving to a new place, research what type of local groups or community supports exist. There is support out there. Looking into what resources are available to you can be a favour you do for your future self when things get tough.
Need help coping with recent changes?