Gary's Guidance: Managing Change

November 2010

How do you respond to change? Do you go with the flow and take change in stride?  Do you resist change because we fear the unknown?  Change, even good change, can be stressful. What is familiar to us is comforting; therefore our initial instinct is to resist anything that is different. When we engage in habits and routines, we have a sense of being able to predict or control our experiences. Often we try to maintain things as they are so that we have a sense of control and comfort.  When circumstances change, we can respond in a reactive or proactive manner.

Reactive change is when change is uninvited. Something happens to us that we did not expect.  As a rule, we do not react well to having change imposed upon us, especially when we perceive that this is done arbitrarily and without our consultation.  We experience a breach of trust.  On a psychological level, we feel stressed which sometimes develops into apathy, anxiety or depression.  When we cannot control change, we may feel helpless and/or hopeless.  As humans, we have a need to control our environment so that we can better deal with life’s issues and circumstances.

Change can be proactive.  In this case we favor change and want it to occur since we think it is necessary for things to get better.  Under this scenario, we take initiative, and assume responsibility for trying to obtain the desired change.  We are self-directed and take responsibility by setting goals, making informed decisions, and positively influencing others.  We have a vision and an end result to be achieved.  The intended outcome is managed through personal effort, hard work, collaboration, and enlisting cooperation from others.

Whether we choose to be proactive or respond reactively, how can we manage our behavior when confronted with change? To assist in dealing with change, think about the kinds of changes you are dealing with today, and consider these reflections and ideas.

When confronted with an unsolicited change, make an effort to seek information about the circumstances surrounding the change.  Learn everything you can so that you can manage your emotions around the impact of the change.  Who is controlling the change; what is behind it?  Ask questions, take notes, and listen.  When all things are considered, you manage your feelings, even though you may not control the change.

Take responsibility for yourself – be realistic about what you can and cannot control.  There is no point in worrying about things you cannot influence or control.  Ask yourself what do you stand to gain or to lose because of the change?  Is there a way for you to influence a different result?  Is there a way to minimize how the change affects you?

Avoid being a victim when confronted with change.  No matter what external changes are thrust upon you, in the end you are responsible for channeling your feelings into productive responses.  Look for opportunities for growing, learning, being healthier, more productive, more loving, and/or emotionally stronger.

Make a plan with short-term goals. This should include specific steps (write them down if necessary) to resolve your concerns so that you can gain a sense of control.

Go with the flow. Focus your thinking on activities or people that make you happy.  Choose not to dwell on the negative.  Take a mental vacation by focusing on previous positive experiences that made you happy. It serves as both a wonderful escape and it’s free.

Gary Kozick, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice.  He specializes in geriatric care management, adult psychotherapy and couples counseling.  Contact him at 215-510-8901

Originally appeared in the Arbor Terrace: A Senior Living Residence monthly newsletter, November 2010)