It’s no accident that many of us get a little freaked out about making changes or approaching transitions in our daily lives. The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, a tool used by doctors to gauge stress levels and the probability of stress-related health breakdowns, directly correlates physical health with relatively low amounts of life change.
That said, the avoidance of change can also lead to missing out on awesome opportunities to grow, learn, and experience new things.
How we approach the intimidating business of making life changes can make all the difference in whether the change is exciting and manageable or scary and unwieldy. Here’s some helpful ways to support ourselves when getting ready to leap into new life transitions.
- Acknowledge your comfort level with change.
Some of us thrive on uncertainty, while others are very averse to change. Neither of these approaches is any better than the other, but it is helpful for us to know ourselves and identify where we fall on the continuum of feeling comfortable with change. Ask yourself: Are you excited for new changes, or do you typically dread them? How long does it take you to acclimate to new situations? Knowing how you approach change as an individual will help inform how you take care of yourself when the change is taking place.
- Identify your thoughts, concerns, and fears.
Give yourself some time to sit with your emotions when considering making life changes. Some parts of you may be very excited for change, while others may be fearful or reluctant. If you can get clear about your reactions, you’ll have a clearer picture about your readiness for change.
Ask yourself: What reactions do you have when thinking about making this change? Do you have conflicting feelings? Do you feel ready, or are there fears that first need to be addressed?
- Examine the evidence.
Examining the evidence is a cornerstone of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Often, at least some of our fears are based on cognitive distortions (distorted thinking patterns). While it is important to acknowledge and take care of these fears, it is also important to recognize which of our fears have real life “evidence,” and which do not. For example: You might fear going to school to earn a degree later on in life. You might worry that you can’t keep up, or that you won’t be able to juggle working and going to school. When you “examine the evidence,” you note that you did very well in college in your younger years, and enjoy learning. You have experience in your field of study that might even put you ahead of the game. You are generally a disciplined person and very rarely procrastinate or fall behind on scheduled tasks. Thus, the “evidence” indicates that, though the life change might be intimidating, it’s likely that you are up to the challenge.
4. Take small, planful steps towards change.
When we’ve examined our readiness for change and feel it’s time to take a step, we can begin to plan how to get the ball rolling. Some changes can be made immediately (beginning to meditate for 10 minutes a day, making a doctor’s appointment to address a health issue, making a therapy appointment), while others require planning, steps, and attending to our emotions and fears (moving to a new location, saving up to go on a big adventure, leaving a marriage or difficult relationship, changing jobs or careers). Ask yourself: Does this change require planning or a timeline? Do I need time to emotionally prepare to make this change? What is the first step I need to make to begin this transition?
Being intentional, knowing ourselves, and practicing self-compassion and patience are helpful strategies we can implement in the face of life changes and transitions. The stress of change is real, but it can be worked with, so we don’t miss out on the opportunities that life changes have to offer us.