Change Stressing You Out? 3 Steps To Regain Control
Humans have a love-hate relationship with change. If we are the instigators of change — creating it because it’s what we want — change is good.
However, as soon as change is imposed on us, we pull up the drawbridge and retreat behind our castle walls. We take the long game of resistance, hoping the army of change eventually breaks camp and retreats.
Unfortunately, Change is much like Star Trek’s Borg — Resistance is Futile.
Still, we resist. Pushing back against changes over which we have little or no control.
Because it’s easy to do that. Comfortable to do that. After all, that’s what change really is doing — trying to force us from our Comfort Zone. Upending the status quo. And, quite frankly, we humans simply don’t like that.
But that by itself is not enough to create the “stress storm” change often generates for us. For stress to occur there’s another filter that needs to be applied — that of our capacity to deal with the change.
When we experience a threat and feel we do not have the resources to deal with it, the stress response is triggered.
The problem is, in resisting change, we build stories. We create inner narratives to make ourselves feel better — to place responsibility on something “out there” that has caused the problem. It’s easy to take the approach that someone or something else is to blame. It comforts us.
Unfortunately, in doing this, we’re also giving up any control we may have over the situation. We never get searching for possible solutions because we are, as we see it, powerless. Without power, we find ourselves without the capacity to deal with the threat.
And so, the stress storm ensues. A cascade that takes us on a physiological and emotional roller coaster.
We never get searching for possible solutions because we are, as we see it, powerless. Without power, we find ourselves without the capacity to deal with the threat.
The Mindset-Change Link
What we often don’t realize is that these stories we create to stay comfortable are actually rooted in mindset. That master lens through which we view and interact with the world around us. A collage of values, beliefs, rules and experiences that we’ve gathered since our birth.
Let’s say, for example, that your parents placed high value on career success. You may, therefore, have the belief that your value is tied to your career, people viewing you as either a success or failure based on the work you do.
Perhaps you even witnessed at a young age one of your parents suffering a job loss and the deep uncertainty it created for you and your family, those emotional responses now stored in the background, like muscle memory.
All of this has contributed to your belief pattern around career. Leap forward decades later and you yourself are now experiencing a loss of your job or there’s talk of a future downsizing. Without your awareness, your subconscious has registered a threat. Your inner dialogue shifts into high gear, creating the narratives rooted in fears that remove your sense of control.
The 4-R Approach to Embracing Change
You may not be able to put a finger on specific events in life that have contributed to your worldview. It’s enough to understand it’s precisely this master lens through which you experience the world that is at the heart of your current struggles.
This is part of the first step in what I call the 4-R approach to embracing change: Recognize and Release, Reframe, and Reset….
Step 1 — Recognize & Release
The change events swirling about you are simply that. Events. Stimuli. They’re nothing until you run them through your inner filter of mindset.
But there is a lot of power in understanding just this. In this awareness, you’ve embarked on a journey of recognizing thoughts and behaviours that are not serving you.
As you explore within yourself (using the questions below), you may see yourself doing any or all of the following:
-Making broad assumptions (a big part of the story-telling process)
-Catastrophizing — worst-case scenario thinking
-Personalizing — “this is being done to me”
-Black or white thinking — “this is all bad”, or “this is all wrong”
You might also note that you’re engaging in behaviours that run your energy down. Incessant worry. Inaction due to waning confidence. Spending less time socializing. Eating poorly, drinking too much alcohol or coffee, avoiding exercise, etc. Change can result in you turning inwards as you get caught up in your own thinking, becoming isolated from the world around you.
To facilitate positive change, it’s important to see these patterns of thinking and behaviour for what they are — rooted in mindset.
Be honest with yourself in this assessment. Release judgment of yourself and show yourself compassion. There is no fault to be assigned here. And acknowledge yourself — thank yourself — for taking this first step.
The change events swirling about you are simply that. Events. Stimuli. They are nothing until you run them through your inner filter of mindset.
Here are some questions to ask in this first step. Take some time aside in a quiet place and write down what comes up for you…
-What outcome do I fear the most in this situation?
-What beliefs are not serving me today?
-How is this situation making me feel (physically, emotionally)?
-What words, thoughts and behaviours am I engaging in that are not serving me?
-What can I NOT control in this situation? (list those things that are out of your hands — aspects that you can and should let go)
-How am I showing up in this situation that I’m not happy with — that’s not really who I am? (how might others be viewing me?)
These questions force you to take an inventory of your current state of affairs. Challenge you to see what you’re feeling physically and emotionally as not normal. Prompt you to take a hard look at thoughts and behaviours that are now controlling you that don’t reflect who you are and who you want to be; thoughts and behaviours you need to let go of to move forward.
Step 2 — Reframe
After completing step 1, you will have recognized that there are thoughts you’re engaging in that have no useful role. Anything that keeps you stuck in place, that strips away your control, and that creates behaviours out of line with who you really are, has no purpose.
In the Reframe, you begin the process of shifting your thinking.
Thoughts based on fear not only don’t serve you, they’re inherently negative. The goal now is to make the shift to the positive. This is a decision that you make, and now that your awareness has increased, you’ve placed yourself in the position to make it.
Here are useful questions to help you do just that (again, write down your answers!)…
-What CAN I control in this situation?
-What are other ways of looking at what’s happening to me?
-What can I commit to letting go of in this situation?
-How do I want to show up in this situation — how do I want people to view me?
-In showing up this way, how does this benefit me? Others? My company? etc.
-What’s good about this situation? (dig deep, there’s always good with the bad!)
-How might this situation benefit me in the long run? My family?
-How is this situation an opportunity for me to grow and learn?
-What am I learning about myself in this situation?
Anything that keeps you stuck in place, that strips away your control, and that creates behaviours out of line with who you really are, has no purpose.
Step 3 — Reset
The decisions we make in life are a derivative of our thinking and emotions. Up to this point, you may have found your options few due to your limited and disempowered thinking. If you’re feeling and thinking as if you’re not in control, you’ve given away your ability to decide.
With a shift of thinking to the positive with the first 2 steps, you’ve now placed yourself in solutions-mode.
For example, rather than viewing a pending downsizing as a threat, you may decide that there is opportunity here after all. Perhaps you choose to see that it’s a necessary step for the company to stay competitive, thereby saving jobs in the long run. Perhaps, you decide, this is a time for you to show your true worth as a change agent in the company. After all, when you thought about how you want to show up, you want to be seen as someone calm, strong and supportive.
With this thinking, you begin to see the possibility of actions you can take that you have full control over.
You make a list…
-Explore how I can improve my skills
-Ask my boss how I can help her in this time of change
-Help my team weather the storm
-Support my colleagues
-Start a regular exercise schedule to get and stay energized
From this one shift, you can see the possible actions that arise. I have italicized the words choose and decide above because they show you have begun to take control back. It’s also a reminder that you always have the right to choose your thoughts and, through your thoughts, your emotional experience.
It comes down to whether you exercise this right. As Jimmy Dean once said, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
Using the 4-R approach, you are well on your way to adjusting your sails.
Our mindset is the lens through which we view and interact with the world. However, if this lens views imposed change as a threat, we may find ourselves feeling stressed, angry and out of control.
Understanding what’s happening behind the scenes and then taking steps to recognize and reframe the disempowering perspectives that block us, can lead us to solutions and actions that empower, energize and ignite.