“Change is inevitable,” we have all heard, “and it is the only constant we can count on.” What a true statement that is! Yet someone along the way forgot to acknowledge and tell us how hard change is for those of us called “humans.” There seems to be a disconnect between the outdated equipment we come to earth with -otherwise known as our bodies- and the realities we have to face in this century.
We are built to defend ourselves and cater to our basic survival needs for food and shelter, yet, to those of us blessed to have a job and a steady income, the truth is that we are poorly equipped to deal with the issues that challenge our perception of being able to survive in the work world. If you have ever been through a lay off, reorganization, changed bosses, or been reassigned to a project you hated or were not qualified to do, you know exactly what I am speaking of. All of the sudden, we move from a foundation of security to the land of the unknown. And talk about switching into “fight or flight” mode!
The issue is that our bodies and minds do not seem to know the difference between apparent and real danger. Whether we are about to be attacked by the prey we need to hunt for dinner or we are being consumed by the stress caused by a re-assignment, we automatically respond in the same manner, unless we make a deliberate effort to not do so. Nevertheless, the possibility exists, and there are a few things that you can do to preserve and protect your physical well-being and mental sanity through times of change.
Change: what is it? By Encarta’s definition, change is “to pass or make something pass from one state or stage to another.” Note, then, the element of being transitional and, additionally, I cannot emphasize this point enough: it will pass! Remind yourself that your feelings, including doubts, uncertainty, insecurity, and the “not knowing,” are all part of the process. One of the tricky components is to not buy into the one of “eternity.” Though going through times of change tends to distort the sense of time, this is part of the trickery of perception. In reality, our doubts are the ones that make us believe that time slowed down.
Take care of yourself. Due to our body’s reactions, the importance of physical and emotional care become a lifeline to survival. Do not give into the temptation of giving up your exercise routine or overeating to cover up your anxiety. Find healthy ways to cope with what you know will be difficult times. You do not need to punish your body or mind for this change. In fact, quite the opposite!
Be patient with yourself and others. Stress and change make us behave in unusual ways and, sometimes, inadvertently take the frustration or anger out onto others. Be overly cautious and try not to overreact. If you do, overtly acknowledge what is going on. People do not need to know the details, just say “the word’ (c-h-a-n-g-e), and people will understand.
Find support in peers who might be going through a similar situation. Though you might feel unique, chances are you are not alone. Only one caution: be careful of non-productive, critical complaint sessions where employees get together just to criticize. It is very tempting to join in, but, on the flipside, I guarantee you that you will feel very heavy and “toxic” afterwards because you will not only carry your own negative energy but you would have picked up your peers’. So, if you do meet with them, do it from the “how can we help each other through this rough times” perspective. You can be the leader on this one!
Assess how much control you have over the situation and behave accordingly. No matter how hard you try, certain things will not return to the way they were. A good “letting go” exercise you might want to try if you feel stuck is the following: divide a large piece of paper into two columns. On the left side, write down “What I have control over,” and, on the right side put down: “What I don’t have control over.” Answer the questions and let this rest for a day or so. Go back to the paper and rip it in half down the line that separated the two sides. Then, analyze your results by answering the following questions: “What can I do about the things I DO have control over?” Write down your answers and choose a couple to put into practice over the next three days. Take the ones that you do not have control over, rip it into pieces, and physically throw the leftovers in the garbage can while telling yourself that, through that ritual, you are letting go of these issues.
Look for the positive. Isn’t it ever so tempting to focus on the negative and have pity parties for one through times of change? But… stop! You have a choice: continue or look for what is good in the situation. If there is nothing good to point out, move on to my next point.
Disconnect from work and the change that is occurring. Resist the appeal of discussing the change 24x7… It will consume you and will not resolve anything. Indeed, channeling your energies into what is negative will only add fuel to the fire. Here is a tried and tested technique from a “master worrier” (me): allow yourself a discrete amount of time to worry about the change (e.g. 1 hour a day). During that time, you can talk about it, write about, complaint about it, and do whatever you need to do to get it out of your system. But that is all you get! Then, let it go. For the rest of the day, every time you catch yourself going back to the “worry place,” remind yourself that you cannot worry until your next scheduled time. If that still does not work, write the worry down, put it in a “worry box,” and pick it up the next scheduled time.
Re-focus. Just like constantly speaking about the change, be wary of shifting all your energy to this “new” situation. Purposefully look for a place where you energy can be channeled in a positive way and can be valued and appreciated, if that is not the case at work. Hobbies, family, friends, or whatever works for you. The key is to stay away from the toxic.
Center on helping others. Just like nature has taught us, shifting our focus can be a very powerful way of transforming energy because change, managed inappropriately, can be extremely toxic. Unfortunately, a reality I have observed: most organizations do a very poor job at managing change effectively. However, like plants, we have the capacity to take that CO2 into and transform it into oxygen, if we want to, with marvelous results. Can you imagine stepping into a room full of one versus the other? What a difference! Nature teaches us a great deal, doesn’t it?
Set a routine. Because one’s foundation gets shaken during times of change and transition, make sure to continue your routines and do not succumb to the temptation to go array. Find things you enjoy doing that are familiar to you and bring comfort. Purposefully incorporate them into your day.
Write about the change. I believe in the power of writing and getting it out of one’s system. I already mentioned a couple of exercises, but, free-flowing writing is also very healing. What we hold on to, will poison us. And sometimes we hold onto things that we do not even know we had inside! Allowing our minds to let go and our hands to write “out” will provide that cleansing process.
Know when to seek professional help. Sometimes, the change can be so stressful it can affect our health in ways that require medical assistance. If such is your case, do not interpret it as a sign of weakness. Be smart and get the help you need. “What won’t kill us, will make us stronger,” is a true saying. But you have to be alive to prove this cliché right on how strong you are!
The power of believing in a higher purpose. Although I understand that not everyone believes in a higher source (such as God, angels, higher power, and Buddha), I have found comfort in knowing that there is meaning in life learnings, as pointed out by such amazing teachers like Dr. Viktor E. Frankl in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Like Dr. Frankl, I believe that things happen for a reason, even if we don’t understand it at the moment, and, there is tremendous strength to be found in this core foundation. Surrendering can also be very powerful. Believing that we are on earth for something beyond the physical existence makes the hard times go by more rapidly.
Know that this, too, shall pass. Think of a situation that you have already survived in your life. Chances are you already have survived other changes successfully. Keep it mind as an example of your skills to overcome problems and difficult times.
Finally, I like to share the words of Dr. Spencer Johnson, from his book “Who Moved My Cheese?” ?an excellent change management resource? who states: “Adapt to change quickly. The quicker you let go of the old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new [one]!” And, although I do personally understand the challenges of change, I also know that it can be managed effectively with intention, support, and proper guidance. The only one who can make the choice to be miserable or make the best of the situation is you.
For almost 20 years, Eugenia has held several leadership and managerial positions creating and heading training, professional development, and human resources programs as well as has consulted for Fortune 500 corporations and non-profit agencies in the United States and Latin America. Her educational foundation includes a Masters degree in Counseling from Seattle University and a Bachelor’s from California State University, Hayward, with a degree in Human Development. Eugenia's unique creations, including employee and career development resources, workshops on numerous topics, interpersonal communication tools, and innovative training materials, have earned her numerous awards and recognition. Her latest innovative products, "Talk to Me... I'm Human"™ Interpersonal Communication Tools and the Career Journey Toolkit™, are a reflection of her commitment to providing individuals with practical products for personal and professional growth.
Eugenia Tripputi may be contacted at http://www.globalcareersintl.com or firstname.lastname@example.org