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Change comes in all shapes and sizes. Often we use the phrase “Change is good.” It may include deciding to get in shape, starting a new relationship, or earning a promotion at work. Even “good change,” however, can start with a difficult struggle like a health crisis, a divorce, or a job loss.

Transitions will always involve elements of both grief and growth

We can also feel confident in and comforted by the oft-repeated paradox that change is constant in life. This, of course, doesn’t feel comforting when we find ourselves in the throes of the inherent challenges of change. All change, no matter how large or small, signals the ending of one thing and the beginning of something new. Transitions will always involve elements of both grief and growth.

In her touching memoir, Epilogue, written after her husband of 39 years died unexpectedly, Anne Roiphe described her path of change. She wrote, “Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”

Even what we would refer to as “happy” change involves a letting go of the familiar in order to grow into a new way of being. For example, welcoming a new baby into the family is cause for great celebration. However, trying to meet the inestimable demands of taking care of an infant can send shock waves through the family system. Feelings of excitement and elation are often trumped by energy taxing shifts on multiple levels, from sleep patterns to finances, and many more.

Changes that are difficult require a lot from us. They often come at a time when we feel the least capable of coping with them. When we are diagnosed with a health complication, we feel catapulted headlong into the need to make immediate, substantive changes. This may involve undergoing and recovering from a medical procedure, taking new medications, adopting lifestyle changes, and altering responsibilities and relationships at home and at work.

Cultivate Awareness

Creating a deeper awareness of how to respond to change in a supportive way will aid us when we are forced to face the task of swapping out the old for the new. Here are some essential tips for creating the awareness that will help you cope with these transitions.

1. Inventory Past Success

Recall a time in your life when you hit a wall of change (see article, Overcoming Backslides, Disappointments, and Self-Blame) got through it and emerged intact on the other side. No doubt it was daunting and difficult, but you persevered in shifting and growing into that new direction. For just a moment, give yourself permission to feel the wonder, relief, and pride in that accomplishment.

Taking an inventory of past success revitalizes our confidence and galvanizes the justified trust in our self-efficacy. You begin to realize that you not only survived the past changes thrown your way, but you turned those changes into stepping stones and building blocks for your personal evolution. This self-acknowledgement of your past strength and tenacity in coping with change will fortify and encourage you to be able to face additional changes.

2. Identify Your Needs

Naming our needs is the opposite of being needy. When feeling inadequate and needy, we look to others for answers in a pattern of unhealthy dependency. It is as if we are saying, “Please fill me and fix me because I feel incapable of helping myself.” Naming our needs, however, involves proactively expressing what we desire and require. It also involves inviting and receiving the support we deserve in order to negotiate change and reach our intended goals.

In his book, Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations and SocietyPeter Senge reminds us that in order to retain our “unbroken wholeness” when facing transitions, we must remember not to go it alone. To illustrate the need for cooperative collaboration, he talks about the common, misguided belief that seeds independently and magically transform into full-grown trees. He explains that while the seed contains the crucial nexus of growth and potential, it will require myriad, indispensable, and vital environmental contributions in order to expand and blossom.

With the crucial support of air, sun, soil, wind, and rain, the seed is able to change, grow, and then burst free from its shell. As a result of this mentored transition, the seed transforms and eventually evolves into its full potential as a tree. We, too, are required to identify and connect with what will aid us in changing and growing. Whose help will we proactively seek? What particular needs will emerge as we continue to foster healthy lifestyle choices for ourselves?

Ideas to Foster a Healthier Lifestyle

  • A check-up with the family physician
  • Individualized exercise training
  • Planned vacations
  • Consultation with a registered dietitian
  • Time in nature
  • Enjoyable down time with loved ones
  • A plan for a dedicated, daily stress management practice
  • Renewed spiritual or religious practice
  • Individual, supportive counseling for emotional growth

Practice Saying Yes

Shift happens, and on a good day we accept this fact as part of the human adventure. But fear of the unfamiliar can create resistance to the changes at hand. It’s important to be aware, however, that if we fight against the change instead of channeling our valuable energy into facing it, this can stunt our personal growth and lead to more stress.

“When you try to put your life in a box and keep it the same all the time, you’re making something dead out of it,” writes Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., co-author of Saying Yes to Change. “When change happens, say yes. When change seems frightening, remember it’s the mother of new life.”

With thought and practice we can develop a more life-affirming attitude toward change. This intentional practice will increase our ability to say yes, even as our fear is coercing us to say no.

Practice these affirmations:

Yes, I accept that life will contain both joy and sorrow.

Yes, I am willing to turn toward life’s challenges and not away.

Yes, I am committed to learning and I will seek any and all support along the way to help me to continue to grow.

Yes, regardless of changing circumstances, I am worthy of every effort required in order for me to experience this life as whole, fulfilling, and good.

The Hero’s Journey

Change is messy. It’s a process that seldom proceeds in a straight line. It has fits and starts and twists. Each period of change involves conflict between one powerful force that tries to keep things exactly as they have been and another powerful force that compels us to move forward and embrace new conditions. When the labor pains of change begin, it’s a scary time filled with uncertainty. But deep within we know that in order to expand and grow, we cannot turn back. It’s both encouraging and elevating to remember that this all-too-human rite of passage is nothing short of what Joseph Campbell, the great twentieth century mythologist, referred to as the hero’s journey.

As he wrote in The Hero with a Thousand Faces“Whether small or great, and no matter what the stage of life, the Call rings up the curtain: a moment of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.”

We everyday heroes don’t need to have all of the answers in order to cope with change. What we will need is the courage to keep trying in spite of our fears. Through the steady application of both tenacity and tenderness we can learn to embrace and even welcome change on this continuing journey of self-discovery, interpersonal connection, and well-earned transformation.

What helps you to cope with challenging transitions?

Contributed by

Mimi O' Connor
Group Support Specialist

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