How to Deal with Change (Negative AND Positive)


Change is inevitable. When we think of change having an impact on mental health, we typically think about the stress caused by loss -- the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, and other endings hold a finality that can be difficult to accept. But sometimes, things change for the better. Positive change can create stress as well, even when it's something we've looked forward to for a very long time. Regardless of what type of change is taking place in your life -- positive, negative, or somewhere in between -- there are strategies you can utilize to cope with the stress of those life changes and come out the other end a stronger version of yourself.

“Change is painful, but nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”

Dealing with Positive Change

When most people hear the term “positive change”, they automatically think happiness is associated with it. However, that is not always true and even major positive changes in a person’s life can cause depression and anxiety. Some common examples of positive changes that many people encounter throughout their lives are: going to college, getting a job, and having a significant other.

Going to college

Whether going to college three miles away or 3,000 miles, it is a huge change. This huge change can cause people to develop depression and anxiety. It can stem from multiple different things such as the harder school work, balancing social and academic life, and being homesick.

How to Cope: For support, turning to close friends and family can help. There are also trained professionals on every college campus to help students transition and get the help they need.

Getting a new job

A common belief is getting a new job causes happiness and joy, while that is the case, it can also cause anxiety.  Anxiety can stem from all kinds of different thoughts. A prevalent thought may be “Is this the right job for me?” or “Am I doing everything correctly?” These thoughts are completely common and most, if not every young person has these exact thoughts as well.

Something else about a new job that may cause anxiety is a new schedule to follow. Humans are creatures of habit and having to start a brand new schedule can be tough. The body and mind now must adjust eating, sleep, and work out schedule.

How to cope: Adopt a new schedule to develop habits that will help you be successful in your new job. Having something stable to rely on -- even if it just means waking up and going for a walk before work at the same time each day, or spending a few minutes reading before bed -- can make a world of difference when everything feels like it's up in the air.

Having a significant other

Starting a new relationship is exciting, but it can also be nerve-wracking. Everybody's had the butterflies, but for some, the better you feel about your future with a new partner, the more pressure you might experience not to mess up. You may find yourself with less time to devote to friends or hobbies, more responsibilities, or going through related life changes -- moving in together, getting hitched, and so on. Yes, all of these things are exciting! But like any change, they can be stressful as well.

How to cope: Maintain some time for yourself. Set some time aside to be apart from your significant other -- spending time with your own friends, working on an independent hobby or project, or just relaxing on your own. A little bit of space to maintain the interests that made up a larger part of your life before you met your partner can give you much needed stability and take a bit of the pressure off.

Not all change has a silver lining. Sometimes it's necessary to deal with changes that are downright painful.

Dealing with Negative Change

For all the good that it can bring, change can also be incredibly painful. We all experience moments that alter our lives or our futures dramatically, and in the aftermath we might find ourselves struggling to accept our lives or our path forward. When dealing with these negative changes, the scale of the change hardly matters -- maybe it's a small change, maybe we've been expecting it, but it can still have a dramatic impact on our mental health.

Losing a loved one

Coping with the death of a loved one is always difficult. There's no way to sugar coat it. It just sucks.

It doesn't matter how old you are or how long you've been expecting it -- losing someone close to you is deeply traumatic and can take a toll on an individual's mental health. Managing the loss and establishing a new "normal" without the person lost can feel insurmountable at times, but it is not insurmountable. It may take time, but you will get through this period of grief.

How to cope: Grief is personal, and so coping with grief is personal. Take your time. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself the time and care you need to heal. If your grief lingers, make sure you're dealing with complicated grief rather than depression -- and take steps to get the support you need.

Falling behind your peers

We live in an extremely competitive culture, and social media only amplifies our tendency to compare ourselves to others. When you're constantly seeing status updates of friends' achievements, and can be easy to feel as if you aren't measuring up. Feeling as though you've fallen behind your peers -- whether you've struggled to find a job after graduation, find a long-term relationship, start a family, travel the world, or meet some other goal you feel that you ought to have reached -- the realization that you are not where you want to be can be frustrating.

How to cope: Your life is your life. Nobody else's. You are dealing with a unique set of circumstances and challenges, so trying to compare your progress to anyone else's is like comparing apples to oranges. Instead of putting strict time limits on your goals, just allow them to be your goals. They aren't a carton of milk -- they won't expire if you don't get to them this week or even this year. Take all the time that you need. Your goals will be ready for you when you reach them.

Moving somewhere new... alone

With jobs, family and significant others, moving around may occur during life.  Moving can be fun and exciting in some ways, but also can be scary and intimidating.  

Moving can be especially scary if you move to a new place and do not a single person.  Making friends after college can be difficult enough, but a completely new place without knowing anyone can be even more challenging.  When feeling lost and alone, depression may start to occur.  

How to cope: There are ways to make friends in a new place. Consider downloading an app dedicated to finding new friends. Check out local community organizations related to things that interest you -- it's a great way to jump into friendships where you already share some common ground.

You don't have to navigate change alone. Support and treatment for change-related anxiety is out there.

Ways to Cope with Changes

Regardless of what kind of change you're going through, there are a few things that can help you get through the situation. If life changes are causing you stress, keep the strategies below in mind.

Ask yourself how much you can control.

It is natural for humans to worry about the big picture of a bad situation. Most of the time, what is going on is not being controlled by yourself. This can be frustrating, but rather than looking at the big picture, focus on what YOU can control. Try and change the smaller things within the situation and figure out if they would possibly affect the bigger picture. If they do not, just focus on smaller everyday actions.

Accept and reframe the situation.

Changing perspective on a situation can do wonders. Take a step back and really think about the situation, for both positive and negative changes.

Reframing the situation can be as simple as finding just one positive thing happening in life. Also, whatever situation, currently happening might seem like the end of the world, but in reality, life could be so much worse. At the end of the day, it is important to be thankful for everything in life and remember everything happens in life for a reason and the means both negative and positive aspects.

Celebrate the positives.

Through all the bad that happens, celebrate the positives even if they are small. This point can connect with what can be controlled and what cannot. Ways to celebrate positives are: talking to your support system, living in the moment, and knowing more positive things are to come.

Take steps to manage stress.

Stress can be managed in so many different and fun ways. Taking up a new hobby, eating healthy, and sleeping eight hours a night are all things that reduce stress significantly.

Working out for just 30 minutes a day can reduce feeling anxious before falling asleep. When the body gets an eight hour sleep, it is cleansed and not as stressed. Just small adjustments into a daily routine can really help with small or big changes

Know when to seek additional support.

An important part of managing stress effectively is knowing when you're experiencing more stress than you can effectively deal with on your own. If the change-related stress in your life has become overwhelming, know that it is okay. We all need extra support sometimes. Whether that means spending some extra time talking to loved ones or seeking professional treatment for anxiety, there are plenty of avenues available to explore.

Life is truly a rollercoaster and there will be thousands of ups and downs and changes throughout it. Both negative and positive changes can affect the mind and body and cause depression and anxiety. With these tips, coping will become easier!

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