Now that we have settled into 2013 many of us will have taken a long, hard look at the year gone past and how it impacted on our lives.
The grim economic climate has affected all of us - some more than others - who faced major financial challenges in the recent past.
The hardship and stress brought about by job losses, pay cuts, inability to pay mortgages or meet day to day expenses has taken its toll on many households.
Others may have managed to stay afloat financially but the downturn has meant finding new ways to make money go further and keeping a keen eye on outgoings. It has also meant going without certain things that we now see as luxuries.
Whatever our situation the past few years signalled change in various forms and this is likely to continue for the forseeable future. Dealing with this requires flexibility, fortitude and resilience.
Psychologists say most of us find change threatening. We often fear it even if it is to our benefit. We do not like moving out of our comfort zone. This is often why we do not change, not because we cannot. People who grew up seeing the benefits of embracing change will more readily welcome it into their lives. For them, it heralds a chance to begin anew.
We are constantly undergoing change as we adapt from the familiar to the unfamiliar yet many of us resist change because of a negative experience of it in the past. Indeed the way our families dealt with change may shape our attitudes to it. Fear of change often involves fear of the unknown, of losing something of consequence and failure.
Local psychotherapist and the director of Galway Counselling Studies Norman Warden says for survival reasons we fear the unknown. “It is difficult to deal with something you have not yet experienced. We often make many negative and inaccurate assumptions which lead to more fear than is necessary. Remember some fear is needed to motivate us to do something in order to gain a sense of control.”
Virtually everything in life is potentially stressful to someone, he states. “Whether you allow a situation to affect you depends largely on your appraisal of it and ability to control it.”
While it is important to listen to our fears - because they are messages from our bodies alerting us to potential dangers, we should not be held back by them, say experts.
We all face unavoidable life crises at some time: bereavement, separation, examinations, financial struggles and family conflict. How these issues affect you is directly related to how content and satisfied you are with your lifestyle, according to Mr Warden.
“Stress is more likely to occur if you find yourself trapped in a certain way of life or if you cannot amend your lifestyle to suit your needs. Too much change can overtax our adaptive resources causing illness.”
Our responses to change can vary from shock and excitement to fear and joy. Many people experience a sense of shock and disorganisation when faced with sudden enforced change.
“Our sense of control has been rocked by reality,” explains Norman Warden. “We may go on to try to pretend it hasn’t or won’t occur. As reality sinks in we may feel low in spirits, stressed, anxious and angry. Acceptance of what simply is, can follow as we treat our feelings as understandable reactions.”
As we begin to absorb and process this new reality we begin to organise ourselves. Often we do this automatically, other times we have to work hard to get through this stage.
Norman Warden offers the following steps to help you deal more effectively with change.
1. Put your energy into what you have influence over, respond early rather than later to changes and act, rather than react, to those situations.
2. There are always four possible options open to you when you face a stressful or unwanted situation. “You can change the situation, change yourself, ie, adapt to it, exit from it or develop ways of living with it. It is helpful to choose the one you have most influence over and focus your efforts on it.”
3. Avoid negatising the future - which we cannot control. Instead decide what you can do today that might help either to reduce any stress or simply to help you feel you are doing something about it.
4. Consider the times you coped well with change. What did you do then that helped? Write down as many strategies as possible, including silly ones, to reduce the obstacles. Now try and use these strategies in this situation. Try reducing what responses are not helpful and replace them with more positive ones.
5. Share with others how you feel. Talk through your worries, concerns and fears with a trusted family member or friend.
6. Visualise the particular change in circumstance you are facing, eg, losing your job/moving house/emigrating. Then visualise this situation in six months time after the decision or life-changing event has taken place. How do you imagine life will be then? Answering this question can sometimes help to allay fears and put more clarity on the situation.
7. Being proactive rather than passive in our decision making is important. Sometimes we avoid making decisions and wait for others or life to make them for us. This helps us to avoid responsibility for the consequences of our decisions. However, in the long term we end up less in control of our lives.
8. If you want to change your life it will be easier to achieve this if you are fully motivated. “In essence we may change because we see more benefit from doing so than not doing so. We can help this process by considering possible incentives, rewards, gains, etc, from deciding to change something. Remember we all have the resources to bring about change, however small. Often this can involve experiencing short term pain for long term gain.”
9. Making changes, such as moving house, changing job or separating from your partner all involve loss. “Our sense of control is threatened. People often view decisions as either/or situations rather than either/and.”
10. Try to maintain a positive attitude and look for the benefits in whatever changes are thrust upon you or which you choose to implement. Remind yourself often of these and they will help you forge ahead.
* Norman Warden will run a course entitled “Managing stress through cognitive therapy and mindfulness” beginning on April 9. For further information telephone (086 ) 3954939 or log onto www.galwaycounselling.com