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Five ways to cope with change

Change is always in the air. Even when it feels like day-to-day life is consistent, our lives are constantly evolving. Yet no matter how microscopic a moment of change might feel, we often seek to avoid it, opting instead to stay in our comfort zones. Sometimes, change can feel life-altering and often it comes out of nowhere, sideswiping us and everything we thought to be true about ourselves. Significant changes in lifestyle, such as the transition from the security of high school into university and adult work environments, can naturally leave us feeling unstable and uncertain. But when you’re aware of change and the emotions that it brings, you can be prepared to tackle it head on and even embrace it.

Be open to change

Dr Carmel Sivaratnam, Research Fellow at Deakin University’s School of Psychology says, ‘The first step to coping with change is to accept that changes are a part of life and often help us grow and develop skills that we wouldn’t have developed if we didn’t have to deal with the change.’ She highlights starting university, which is a significant life change, and explains that change is in fact good for us. ‘Going through change helps us to develop skills,’ Dr Sivaratnam explains. When we navigate periods of change, it enables us to build a sense of confidence. She points out that at one point or another there will be a sense of accomplishment that comes with getting through the discomfort of change and realising we have a handle on this new environment. It’s at times like this that we grow.

Work out what’s in your control and what isn’t

Whilst change can cause anxiety and discomfort, distinguishing between aspects of the change you can control and those you can’t will better equip you to handle the change positively. Dr Sivaratnam says, ‘While we can’t always avoid change, there may be some things that are under our control, or things that we can do to help adjust to the change much easier.’ For example, Dr Sivaratnam explains that whilst its normal for our social circles to change over time, and for people to move in and out of our lives, changes to friendships can be among the most difficult to navigate. Although the loss of a friendship can make us feel unhappy or isolated, she says the key is ‘being aware of your emotional response and looking after yourself’. Anticipating what’s likely to make you feel anxious, and engaging in activities you enjoy to counteract that emotion, will take you a long way to improving how you cope with the change.

'While we can’t always avoid change, there may be some things that are under our control, or things that we can do to help adjust to the change much easier.'

Dr Carmel Sivaratnam,
Deakin University

Connect with people who understand your experiences

If you’re finding it difficult to deal with a new transition, it’s much easier to talk to someone than go it alone, according to Dr Sivaratnam. ‘Reach out to others who may be experiencing a similar life change or who have been through this before. The support of others around us is often what carries us through difficult or uncomfortable periods,’ she says. Seeking out a mentor, friend or family member to talk to can make a world of difference. ‘People who’ve gone through that before can share coping strategies,’ she adds. Many large organisations such as employers and universities have extensive peer support networks you can join that enable you to connect with like-minded people, such as these clubs and societies offered by Deakin University to its students.

Be flexible

A big part of successfully managing change involves letting go of any preconceived ideas or set attitudes of how things should be. We tend to use expectations that are useful in helping us ‘set the scene’ for what’s ahead, Dr Sivaratnam suggests, but adds, ‘Being able to let go of some expectations which no longer fit with what is going on around us is vital in being able to deal with change’. For example, whether you’re starting a new course or a new job, it could disrupt your schedule more than you’d anticipated. ‘You might think that you’re going to have lots of time to come home and go to the gym, but maybe the hours are longer than you expected. You might need to readjust your time or something in your lifestyle until you’ve transitioned,’ she says.

Embrace change one step at a time

When you’re finding your way in a new phase of life, Dr Sivaratnam says you don’t have to feel comfortable with everything immediately. ‘Set a number of key goals for yourself relating to coping with the change and focus on achieving these one by one,’ she suggests. If everything seems a bit much, break it down. ‘Celebrate little victories. Set a small goal like going out of your comfort zone and joining a club or staying at a function a bit longer. You don’t have to be good at everything straight away,’ she concludes.

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Dr Carmel Sivaratnam
Dr Carmel Sivaratnam

Research Fellow, School of Psychology
Deakin University

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