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The Effects of Change

We all struggle with change in different ways.

Each person's experience with change is as unique as the situations that led to the change.  It can happen because we choose to go in new directions in life, or it can happen because of events beyond our control.  Change can be life-enhancing or it can present struggles and obstacles to life as we want to be living it.

Changes that are often considered life-enhancing include:

Changes that are often considered struggles include:

  • Starting college or going back for a new degree
  • Starting a new career
  • Beginning a new relationship
  • Embracing your gender or sexuality
  • Deciding to be your authentic self
  • Growing up and moving out on your own
  • Buying a home
  • Choosing to have a child
  • Retirement
  • Losing a job unexpectedly
  • Struggling in college 
  • Questioning your gender or sexuality
  • Questioning your faith
  • Loss of a relationship due to divorce, death, or other reasons
  • Acquiring a disability or illness
  • Becoming a caregiver for someone who has acquired a disability or illness
  • Issues of aging

Either way, change is stressful.

Regardless of whether a change is toward something positive or feels like a problem, it can be stressful.  We're used to thinking about stress related to our problems.  For example, losing a job unexpectedly can create worries about our financial security and bring up all kinds of uncertainty about the future.

These are the kinds of stresses we often assume are part of change.

But even doing something by choice like choosing to take a new career direction for something that you love can bring similar uncertainties.  It's a new step and can feel like a big risk.  You may worry if it's going to work out.  You might question if the people in your life support your decision.  You may doubt your ability to fully realize your dream.

These are the kinds of stresses that often take us by surprise.  After all, we're doing something we want to do, right?  How can that be stressful?

Dealing with change can affect our overall wellbeing.

Closeup of a person's arms leaning on a railing with a lake and trees in the background.
We often figure that we don't need therapy to deal with change because it doesn't seem like we have a "diagnosable problem."  But coping with change can involve dealing with different things such as:
  • How and why the change happened.
  • The practical results of the change.
  • How the change affects our roles and identities.
  • How the change affects those around us.
  • Figuring out how to move forward.

This can take a toll on us in several ways.

Coping with change can effect our mental and emotional health.

It can result in all kinds of negative self-talk, intrusive thoughts about the future or worry about the past, stir up all kinds of emotions, and more.  Have you experienced any of these?

  • You feel anxious, lost, overwhelmed, or sad.
  • You think a lot about the future and how things could go wrong.
  • You keep thinking about events in the past that feel painful.
  • Things like sounds, smells, or even locations trigger uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, and reactions.
  • You doubt your ability to cope with the change.
  • You deny the changes have happened.
  • You feel angry about the changes or maybe even feel angry at yourself.
  • It's like there's a voice in your head saying bad things about you.
  • You tell yourself you're a burden, or that you're stupid or weak.
  • You experience shame or guilt about your situation.
  • You can't stop thinking about it all.
  • Your want to go back to how things were before.
  • You wish it would all just go away.

The stress of change can lead to challenges that result in diagnoses.  Existing diagnoses might make the challenges even harder.  Some of the mental health diagnoses that can result from dealing with change include:

Adjustment Disorder
Acute Stress Disorder
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Substance Abuse Disorder

Coping with change can effect our physical health.

Dealing with change can take a toll on us physically as well.  This may happen through changes in our patterns of living or with behaviors we use to try and cope with the change.  You might be noticing things like:

  • Staying up late or getting very little sleep
  • Sleeping late or sleeping a lot
  • Feeling restless or feeling tired all the time
  • Not eating regularly due to changes in your living patterns or poor appetite
  • Poor hygiene 
  • Headaches or body aches
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Trying to cope with drugs or alcohol
  • Spending too much time watching TV, scrolling social media, or playing video games to avoid the problem
  • Self-harming behaviors
Person lying in bed in a dark room, their face lit up by their phone as they scroll.

These can happen for all kinds of reasons.  It may be your body is trying its best to adapt to the stress.  It may be you feel you don't have the time to take care of yourself with all of the things you have to worry about.  It may even be that your mental health is affecting your physical health, such as your thoughts telling you you don't "deserve" good care.

The stress of change can even affect our relationships.

Whether we make a change by choice or it happens because of events beyond our control, it has an affect on those around us as well.  People in your life may see what's happening to you and worry, or they may want to know how they can support you.  Some changes can also lead to the loss of relationships because we cannot control how other people will react to us.  

Often we make choices based on how we think other people will react to the changes that are happening.  This can lead to all kinds of thoughts and actions that affect our relationships.

Two paths split around a group of trees in a forest.
  • Do you tell yourself you need to be strong and put on a brave face?
  • Are keeping to yourself because you worry about "being weak?"
  • Are you isolating yourself because you worry about how others will react to you?
  • Do you feel alone and worry no one will understand you?
  • Do you fear some relationships will end?
  • Are you trying to pretend like the problem doesn't exist, hoping it will go away so your relationships won't change?
  • Do you worry about being a burden to those around you if you open up?

Change can bring unexpected grief.

Have you noticed feelings of grief because of the changes you're experiencing?  Is this surprising to you?  Is it something you think you shouldn't feel?  Sometimes grief is an expected response to a big change like acquiring a disability or losing your job. But it can also come from changes we want to make. 
  • Going away to college or moving some place you always wanted to live means you're leaving behind people who are important to you and familiar places that have meaning. 
  • Leaving a job to pursue a new career means you lose some of the relationships you've known.
  • Accepting your authentic gender or sexuality can stir up thoughts about what life could have been like if you had recognized things sooner.

If you're surprised because you've felt grief about the changes, that's okay.  That's natural.  There is no right or wrong way to feel about what you're going through.

The good news is - you can do this!

Your situation is unique to you.  The challenges ahead of you are unique to you.  There is no right or wrong way to feel about them and no one right way to move forward.

There is no "normal."

But you know what else is unique?  You are.  You are special in your strengths and the way you've overcome obstacles before.  Your outlook, your humor, your connections, and the ways you navigate life that make you feel capable and affirmed - these are all already there within you.

Together, we can help you reconnect with the talents that lie within you.  Maybe you just forgot about them with everything you've been dealing with.  That's okay.  We all do when we're really stressed (even therapists).

Together, we can bring you out of the past or future and into the present.

Together, we can make the insurmountable feel achievable one step at a time.

Together, we can help you create a life worth living.

Ready to take that next step?  Click below to contact me with questions or to set up a free 15-minute call to see if we'd be a good fit.

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