Mind & Body

6 ways to deal with a major life change, without fear

Have you had a major life adjustment recently? Clinical psychologist Dr Emmanuella Murray shares her top tips for adjusting to, and addressing, change – head on.

COVID was unexpected. Life has permanently changed; it will never be the same. We have all had to accept and adjust to rapid changes during the pandemic. In a world drenched in uncertainty the one thing that is certain is change is healthy and a part of life.

Whether expected or not, welcomed or not, change demands us to do something differently. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, losing your job, a relationship breakup, moving to a new house, or having a baby, we are forced to adjust. Change can sometimes be rough, but time and acceptance help us navigate the storm.

If we see adjusting to change like any other challenge we face in life, we will ‘bounce back’ (that’s resilience), and feel motivated to look for a solution, or accept some situations are simply out of our control. Approaching life this way gives us a psychological boost and we feel more empowered to act.

So here are some helpful tips for facing and adjusting to change, head on.

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1. Practice acceptance

Why do people respond so differently to change? It is all in our mind. When we hold inflexible beliefs about how things should be in life, it sparks distress. Many things are out of our control but when things happen to us, we are easily derailed by our thinking.

Sidestepping the ‘catastrophic’ or ‘shoulding’ traps and accepting that change is inevitable, and setbacks will happen, is a far more helpful response. Accepting change rather than wasting time and energy resisting it, boosts our ability to cope and confidence, and it allows time and space for new learning and opportunities.

2. Focus on your values

Values help us regain purpose when we feel ‘stuck’ or if life takes an unexpected turn. Change can prompt us to reconnect with our values – courage, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, and even better, help us identify which values are absent or inconsistent in our life. Staying focused on our values gives us meaning and direction.

3. Rethink self-care

Self-care is maintaining overall body health through nutrition, relaxation, exercise, sleep, and engaging in pleasurable activities. Mindfulness is a useful addition to self-care during change because it helps us accept the present moment by calming our mind and sitting with our emotions and reactions.

Research has shown that by simply engaging with a mindfulness technique, we are bolstering our attentional filter and benefiting the immune system, among numerous other health gains. There are many easily accessible apps (i.e. Calm, Headspace, and Smiling Mind) and courses that offer mindfulness training. If we rethink self-care and see it as a necessity in life, we will sharpen our response to change and relieve stress.

4. Act

Choosing to act can be difficult because it may be the opposite to what we feel like doing. Feeling helpless saps our energy and affects our quality of life. When we turn our attention to our behaviour and take responsibility for solving problems, we regain a sense of control and feel more motivated. This might mean establishing a new routine, facing difficult situations, and speaking up about the help we need.

5. Lean on others

Human connection is key in feeling a sense of belonging and feeling validated. Maximising supports during times of change and upheaval, eases stress, lifts our mood, and bolsters our resilience.

6. Seize the opportunity

Sometimes change can be painful and exhausting so we might as well optimise the benefits. We all have a different story and therefore the outcome and learning will be different. Change is an opportunity to embrace all of life – the thrills and the storms – as gifts in learning and adjustment, all of which strengthens our resilience.

In an emergency please call 000

If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24- hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 46 36 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (3pm-12am AEST) or email response.

Dr Emmanuella Murray is a clinical psychologist who has been practicing for over 10 years. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, adults, and couples – often presenting on an assortment of topics to a variety of professionals and community groups.