Coping with Change
Change is the only constant in life. Of course, we all know this, and it’s something we can take on board rationally. Yet in practice, accepting and coping with major change is hard.
Life transitions can leave us feeling like we are not in control, overwhelmed or even devastated, even when the transitions were ones we planned or hoped for.
It’s worth noting that even transitions which may look like positives in a person’s life, such as buying a house or going on holidays, can cause anxiety. In fact all life transitions can be hugely stressful and hard to come to terms with. Some examples of major life transitions include:
- becoming a mother or father
- significant loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship, or a pet
- serious illness
- death of a child
- starting or changing a career
Why are Life Transitions So Difficult?
It’s normal to find life transitions - and indeed all change - challenging. Human nature resists change. This is because transitions involve letting go of what is familiar. That’s difficult, even if you were unhappy with what you had.
Transitions also mean a change in personal identity, in who you are now. For example, becoming a house owner is a different identity from being someone who rents a house. Friends and family see you differently, and you see yourself differently.
The stress of major change can manifest physically and emotionally. Emotionally, you can feel vulnerable, anxious and fearful about the future. You may be overwhelmed by anger, sadness, or grief. Physically, your blood pressure may rise, you may feel exhausted, have broken or disturbed sleep, experience aches and pains, or even panic attacks.
How Counselling Helps in Dealing with Change
There is a great pressure on all of us to be capable and to be seen to cope. Yet inside we may be falling apart. Counselling for Life Transitions gives us a safe space in which to explore and express both our positive and negative emotions about life transitions. We learn skills to manage and even enjoy life transitions.
There may be a period of grieving, letting go and deep inner adjustment to go through. For example, getting married can bring up strong feelings of anxiety, confusion, fear, doubt, grief, and loss. Having these feelings does not necessarily mean we do not want to marry or that we don’t love our partner. It simply means our emotions are preparing us or giving us information about how we feel concerning the changes ahead. In fact, all these are normal emotions. When recognized, allowed to be present and then processed therapeutically, such feelings can help us to let go of an old lifestyle and identity. Then we can be fully present and joyous on the wedding day, able to embrace our new life and identity as wife or husband.
On the flip side, if these feelings are not expressed (preferably with a counsellor) and processed, they can manifest later in married life with partners behaving as if they are still single. For example, the man may still feel he’s entitled to hang out in the pub with mates although his wife resents this. Or the wife may not give a second thought in purchasing an expensive item, when the husband worries about mortgage payments.
When we are present, not overwhelmed by feelings about the past or the future, we can truly enjoy the moment. We can also be more resilient, since we are only be absorbed in the present moment and not lugging around unprocessed memories of the past. Counselling helps us to do this, to be fully present with what is happening now. Then we can truly say we have more control over our life and reactions. We can explore questions such as ‘Who am I now? Who do I want to be? How can I best act within this new role or new situation?’
Alongside understanding our emotions and ourselves, counselling can also help us develop relevant coping skills and strategies. These include developing a support network; stress management; problem solving; letting go of old ways of thinking and seeing which are no longer appropriate; and learning new ways of seeing and accepting life transitions and who you are now.