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How to Effectively Manage the Stress of Change

Written By Guest Writer on Thursday, January 31, 2013 | 9:00 AM

How to Effectively Manage the Stress of Change
Change is paradoxically a constant in life and by one of the definitions, change implies stopping on stage, position or direction and starting another.

Stress is defined as anything that disturbs or is likely to disturb normal functioning.

Change is a well known cause of stress. The discomfort associated with certain changes could range from mild anxiety, depression, adjustment disorder to a full blown mental breakdown. Though some changes intrude our lives as a rude shock, sometimes change is anticipated and this might help in adjusting to it; though it doesn't completely rule out the accompanying stress.

RESISTING CHANGE

Sometimes change is seen as a threat to what we are used to, so we respond to it as nature has instinctively designed us to respond to stress... "Flight Response" or "Fight Response".

In Flight Response, to change, we tend to play a passive avoidance or denial to change that has occurred. Take for instance that change has occurred or is occurring at your workplace, you may actually find yourself refusing to volunteer for teams or committees or in extreme cases not contributing constructively to aid the process of change.

On the other hand, the Fight Response is a more active role which may entail making cutting critical remarks or even going all out to sabotage the change process.

COPING WITH CHANGE

Change is inevitable, so rather than take the Fight or Flight Response, it is better to adapt to change. Here are some tips to successfully help us navigate the change curve:
  • Change Your Perception - Rather than seeing it as a barrier to the routine and familiar, perceive change as a means to achieving your goals. When properly harnessed, change can be guided to aid growth. Sometimes this change in perception could be linked to a grief reaction. This process entails - first, denial of the change, then anger because the change is inevitable, then bargaining for preservation for some of the old and familiar, then despair over the loss of the old and familiar, then despair over the loss of the old and finally acceptance of the change.
    Some quickly navigate this curve at an extremely fast pace while others go through it at a much slower pace. You can't successfully jump from step one to five; you need to go through the entire process but the sooner you get to acceptance and work on your perception, the faster you can see the advantages in the change for you. Sometimes the singular advantage you find can simply be the opportunity to start afresh.
  • See The Big Picture - Sometimes you need to give up something or things to climb higher. Growth itself is associated with change. So stop looking at the discomfort that comes from the interruption of your normal routine and star looking at the intended goal. Seeing the big picture helps to enjoy the trade-offs associated with change.
  • Look for Anchors - Most times, all aspects of your life do not experience significant change all at once. There usually are aspects of your life that remain invariably stable. For example, if the change is going on at work, you may find that anchor in your home or even a trusted friend. On a corporate level, the anchor may be the rock-solid company values like quality service, shared accountability and mutual respect. It could sometimes also be your personal values or your faith. So hold onto those things and hang on to them as the change ride moves speedily or slowly as the case may be.
  • Have Realistic Expectations - Change can be occasionally painful - demanding a sacrificial adjustment on our part and though we should be very optimistic about the outcome of change, staying real could help you cope better with the negatives so much that it doesn't become overwhelming or the positives do not make us unduly ecstatic. Someone put it this way..."We may not be able to anticipate all of the problems ahead, but we can map out in general terms how we will deal with them".
  • Increase Your Capacity to Cope with Change - Undergoing the process of change can be stressful. To fully harness the process of change rather than wish it away, anticipate change. It somehow keeps you ahead, thereby reducing the emotional response that is usually provoked by change. Increasing one's capacity may involve asking questions, getting more training, reading books or simply seeking counsel. It could also entail a lot of exercise, plenty of rest or watching your diet in order to be more physically fit to cope with the stress of change.
  • Whether expected or not, change is constant and inevitable. So rather than wait for change (or the effects of change for that matter) to happen to you, Look for Anchors - Most times, all aspects of your life do not experience significant change all at once. There usually are aspects of your life that remain invariably stable. For example, if the change is going on at work, you may find that anchor in your home or even a trusted friend. On a corporate level, the anchor may be the rock-solid company values like quality service, shared accountability and mutual respect. It could sometimes also be your personal values or your faith. So hold onto those things and hang on to them as the change ride moves speedily or slowly as the case may be.
  • Have Realistic Expectations - Change can be occasionally painful - demanding a sacrificial adjustment on our part and though we should be very optimistic about the outcome of change, staying real could help you cope better with the negatives so much that it doesn't become overwhelming or the positives do not make you become proactive and practice these principles above.
Sometimes people wait for things to return to the former state after change has occurred, viewing the change as "only temporary". Most times however, the change becomes permanent and even leads to other "changes," causing a ripple effect, creating a totally different reality... And then you wake up one day and behold the NEW has become the NORMAL. ...Like a Black man the the White house, an ATM in your neighborhood or babies owning mobile phones in Nigeria and maybe one day uninterrupted power supply!

Dr. Otefe Edebi (Resident Psychiatrist)
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