Feeling anxious about change?
Check out these 5 simple tips
Finishing school, starting university, starting your first job, having a baby.. all of these are positive changes. They are changes people seek out. It can be quite a surprise when these changes cause anxiety. We usually associate anxiety with negative experiences and it can be a rude shock when a positive change brings about an anxious response in you. So why does this happen?
Anxiety is the body’s defense mechanism. It is the body’s response to our brains believing that we are in danger. When faced with something new, no matter how badly we wanted it, our brains can start to feel in danger. The fear of things not turning out as hoped, the fear of the unknown and doubts about our ability to meet the new demands are just some of the reasons that positive change can trigger anxiety in humans. How can you manage these transitions well?
- Write it out – when starting something new you can feel overwhelmed with thoughts about the change. “What if it doesn’t work out?” “What if my new teacher (boss etc) doesn’t like me?” “What if I make mistakes?” and “what if I don’t cope?” for example. Having these thoughts swirling in your mind can trigger an anxiety response in your body. Writing these thoughts down can be helpful. Writing is so simple and yet so powerful. Putting your thoughts on paper can operate as a form of download and also allows you to see your thoughts and decide which ones are real problems to work on, and which are simply fearful predictions with no real basis to them. Spend a few minutes dumping your thoughts on paper each day. The next day review what you have written and determine whether you need to take action on these thoughts or not.
- Maintain a balanced perspective – Often when starting something new your brain, in an effort to protect you, starts thinking about everything that could go wrong. In doing so it generally ignores all the ways in which things could go well. Remember to think about what could go right too. For example, you may think “what if my new boss (or teacher) hates me?” Acknowledge that this could happen, but is it not equally likely that your new boss or teacher may like you? No-one is asking you to predict the future but since your brain may naturally do that in an effort to protect you, it is helpful to balance the picture out by recognising that, yes, things could go wrong, but they are equally likely to go well, unless you have clear evidence that things are likely to go wrong.
- Get informed – if you don’t know what to expect your brain may take some poetic license and imagine all sorts of catastrophic outcomes. Gather as much useful information as possible so that you feel prepared for the change ahead. For example, if you are starting university check out the university’s website, visit campus a few times, work out how you will get there and learn where all your lectures will be held etc.
- Accept that there is no such thing as the “right” decision – often people agonise over decisions; “Is this the right job for me?” “Is this the right course for me…?” The fact is that none of our decisions come with guarantees and that’s what we are really looking for when we try to make the ”right” choice. Do your research, make your decision and then decide that it will be the right choice for you. Research has found that the more committed we are to our decisions the more comfortable we are with them, not the other way around. Once you’ve made a decision, commit to it and determine to make the most of it, being indecisive leads to less satisfaction regardless of the decision.
- Take care of yourself – self-care is important if we are to navigate change well. So as much as it is within your control get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and stay social.
The next time you embark on something new, no matter how much you wanted it, don’t be surprised if you feel a little anxious. If the anxiety feels overwhelming, try out some of the strategies above and see which ones work best for you.
Tehani Gunasekara (M Psych, B Adv Science, Hons Psych) is a Clinical Psychologist who is passionate about helping people live their best possible lives despite the challenges that inevitably come our way.
While warm and empathic Tehani is a straight talking and practical Psychologist who uses the principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Positive Psychology and Neuroscience to obtain outcomes for her clients. She will empathically support people to move forward with their lives and reach for a full and meaningful life regardless of their circumstances.