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“Helping you gain control over the things you want to change”

Fiona Nicolson

Facing up to change, planned or unplanned, welcome or unwelcome

Posted on 19th April 2021

Change is the main thing taking up my thinking time at the moment. My clients are constantly telling me about the pleasures, pressures, and learning they are going through as more choices open up in their lives. The slow lifting of lockdown is finally here. This is leading us to a world of more options. The chance to make choices, which has been a long way off for so long, now seems much closer or even already here.

It can be difficult to get back into the swing of things. We have often forgotten the pleasure of doing something new and unexpected. We need to remember how to decide between competing alternatives. It can even feel difficult, perhaps you are one of the many feeling anxious about some of the things on your own horizon.

I spent some time recently pondering what my clients have been telling me and on changes that have been happening in my own life. I have written throughout the pandemic about why and how change can be painful (http://fionanicolson.com/why-the-end-of-coronavirus-lockdown-is-causing-anxiety-and-depression/). Many, many of my clients want to speak about change. It is often a great relief for them once they understand that there are good and very deep reasons why we do not automatically run towards the new.

Different types of change

I have been thinking beyond this recently, I believe there is more to say. Not all change is the same, it can be welcome or unwelcome, expected or unexpected, planned or unplanned.

If change is welcome then we are more likely to be in a positive frame of mind when it comes. This makes it more likely that we will greet the new opportunities with open arms. If it is expected and planned then we will have had a chance to mentally prepare, to try out what our changed world will look like. This preparation can take us from a difficult mental place into a zone where we feel much more comfortable.

If we know change is coming we will prepare as a natural part of anticipating how we will cope. We are likely to do several practice runs in our heads until the prospect of change feels familiar. This is going on before the change happens. We often do this without even thinking, daydreaming about your first restaurant meal after lockdown is an example of this, or planning what you will wear on your first day back to the office. In my therapy room, I sometimes turbocharge this natural process. I will encourage clients to visualise their new scenario in detail, using all their senses. We might do this more than once, walking through the scenario and any different options which present themselves. This has several functions; it familiarises the client with the new and it enables them to recognise and confront any fears and anxieties about what will happen. We work to change the underlying beliefs or issues that are driving the fear or anxiety. They can also practice taking control if needed with coping strategies and solutions for anything which feels wrong or is worrying. The client can then face the situation with confidence and positivity. 

When change feels hard

But what about if change is unplanned, unexpected, and even unwelcome? This is a very different situation and can be much more difficult to deal with. It can feel like a roadblock, you are merrily travelling along your chosen pathway and suddenly the way ahead is gone, or is impossible for you to reach. Instead, there is a side road, or even a lot of side roads which you feel you must now take. These can feel unfamiliar, unwelcome or even frightening. You can feel forced to choose an option which is not one you necessarily wanted. You may feel you do not have enough information or knowledge to make the best choice and this can cause great anxiety.

In this circumstance, change can feel hard. There can even be a grieving process for the future you were anticipating and now feel you have lost. If you feel this it is important that you accept it and allow those feelings to play out.

How you cope with this can depend on your own belief system and values. If, for example, you have a deep-seated belief that good things will be taken away from you this type of situation can re-affirm your beliefs and make it difficult for you to move forward. You may begin to think that a bad outcome from the change is inevitable. If, on the other hand you have been able to cultivate a resilience in your outlook you may find things easier. You may still go through a grieving stage, mourning what was to be and now will not be. You will probably need a period of readjustment as you process what has happened. Then, however, you will be able to embrace the change and even see it as a good thing. If you feel your belief system is stopping you facing change with resilience and positivity then you may need professional help from someone like me. Often it only takes a few sessions to change those beliefs and replace them with some which are much more useful to you.

The obvious choice may not be the only one

To go back to our analogy of the roadblock. You may have to come to accept that the pathway you were on is no longer accessible to you. This may be very sad and you need to acknowledge your feelings. Then it may occur to you that you have a choice. You do not have to take the side road which looks the most obvious. There may be another choice which is better for you.

To get the most out of this process you will need resilience, honesty and self-reflection, and some patience. If the change is unexpected then what the best way forward is in the new circumstance may not, almost certainly will not, be immediately obvious.

You will need time to process your new reality and reality check what is possible. This can be exhilarating or frustrating, or somewhere in the middle. The important thing is that you begin to grasp the challenge. Your pathway towards that possible future may not be what you expected but it can be just as fulfilling.

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