Posted by: Dr. Jennifer Fee | December 9, 2010

Four Tips for Coping with Change

Since I’ve lived in California, I’ve had numerous friends move out of the state.  My reaction is always the same–happiness for my friends as they head towards new opportunity, and extreme sadness for the fact that I will no longer see them on a regular basis.  Change is hard, whether it’s a good change, a sad change, or a change that’s going bring new challenges (like say tightening your budget!).  The process of change always brings at least a touch of uncertainty, because we are not intimately familiar with how the new circumstances will be.   And, as you probably realize by now, uncertainty can trigger anxiety.  Don Piper calls addressing difficult changes “finding a new normal,” implying there’s a process that takes some time. Our ability to adapt to change is critical for our mental health and a skill that we can work on improving.  Since change occurs all the time, we have plenty of opportunity!

Tip #1: Clarify what is in your control and what is not in your control  OK, you caught me, I did steal this from the serenity prayer,  but there’s a ton of wisdom here. If you identify what parts of a changing circumstance that you can control you know where to focus your energy.  You can also work to let go of parts of a circumstance where you have no control. 

Some people dive into making plans and “doing,” as a way to avoid feeling the helplessness of being out of control. If you recall from my last post, the avoidance of feelings can also lead to trouble.  On the flip side, being completely engulfed by helplessness is not good either.  It can keep us from taking necessary action that might help our circumstances. Balance between these two is key for handling change in an emotionally healthy way.

Tip #2:  Don’t Navigate Change Alone! Dr. Leonard Poon of the University of Georgia has been studying people who live to age 100 and beyond for the past 10 years to find out what factors help people to reach this age. Among the characteristics of his subjects he found that they all had excellent social support.  This finding is not new, there’s lots of evidence that indicates that good social support is essential for maintaining and recovering physical and mental health.  In other words, we were made to live in relationship with one another.  If our relationships are poor, we suffer.  If our relationships are healthy, we are better equipped to navigate the difficulties of life and its changing nature.  So, just like many of us strive to maintain a healthy diet and exercise, we should also all be building and maintaining healthy, supportive relationships. Good friends give support and encouragement to each other through difficult times.

Tip #3: Focus on the Here and Now!  Yes, I know I talk about this a lot, that an essential key to managing anxiety is to live in the here and now.  It is true for handling change as well. Many changes occur gradually or are upcoming in the future and it’s easy to start worrying about all that the change is going to entail. Breaking things down into small, manageable pieces is key for handling changes like involve a lot of work. Scheduling, budgeting, and looking for help and resources might also be a part of handling a change like this–not only from a practical perspective but from an emotional one as well.  When there’s a clear plan with a time frame and deadlines, you are more likely to be able to focus on the “here and now.” 

Tip #4:  Strive to become more flexible  This past summer I took a quick overnight trip to Mexico with a friend and her daughter.  It was a reconnaissance mission, we were checking out the possibilities for a multifamily summer vacation.  My friend announced at the beginning of our trip that we were on the “No Stress Express,” meaning that no matter what was to happen on our trip, we were not going to stress out about it but rather “go with the flow.”  Every time we hit a little frustration (there were a few), we reminded each other that we were on the “No Stress Express!”

Some people are naturally more flexible than others.  If it’s really easy for you to change your mindset with a sudden change of plans or circumstances, congratulations, you probably handle change in general pretty well.  However if you get upset, angry, or have difficulty when your plans suddenly change, you might want to address this issue. Just like it takes work to become more physically flexible, it can take a lot of effort for us to become more emotionally flexible.  Using a catch phrase like my friends, “No Stress Express,” might help remind you to not dwell on a negative emotion.  Committing yourself to finding a “Plan B or C, or sometimes even D” when Plan A falls through might also help.

Thanks for reading!  –Dr. Jennifer Fee



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr. Jennifer Fee and StressMaster, StressMaster. StressMaster said: Change is hard. Here's a little help. […]

  2. […] good mental health, physical health, and longevity.  I also talked about this in a recent post, 4 tips for coping with change, where I identified social support as being critical for sucessful navigating through […]

  3. […] good mental health, physical health, and longevity.  I also talked about this in a recent post, 4 tips for coping with change, where I identified social support as being critical for sucessful navigating through […]

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