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Dealing with Change

    As 2023 begins, we’re already dealing with change: the changing month and year, shifting out of the winter holiday season, and starting to imagine how this year might be different. For most people, change can feel scary or overwhelming. Why is that, and what can you do about it?

    It’s completely normal to be concerned about change. After all, your brain and body is wired to connect familiar patterns and experiences with safety, and approach new experiences with hesitation and caution.  It’s how our bodies evolved to stay safe in changing environments, because what we don’t know might hurt us–there’s risk when we’re not 100% sure of what’s coming. However, in most cases in modern life, it’s not life-or-death risk, so we have to find ways to support ourselves in making changes and trying new things so we can adapt to life, pursue meaning and purpose, and make the most of opportunities that the present and future may hold.

    The first step is just to realize that you’re nervous, anxious, or fearful. Get to know how that feels in your body, and how it may shape the way you think. A few things you may notice:

    • You have increased difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, as your mind may race at night
    • You have tummy troubles, like nausea or bloating, when you think about change or the future
    • When you think about change or the future, your heart starts to race and your breathing gets shallow / you hold your breath
    • Your nervous habits increase, like biting your nails, drinking, picking at your skin, or stress eating
    • You might feel like you’re on the verge of tears, or quick to lose your temper
    • You struggle to focus on what you’re doing, or find it impossible to multitask
    • You forget appointments, or to respond to texts or emails like you normally would
    • Whenever your mind wanders, you think about stresses and challenges you imagine for yourself in the future

    When you notice these things are happening, pause and narrate the experience to yourself (whether in your own head, or say it out loud). Something like, “I notice that when I think about changing jobs, my stomach twists in knots and I get a headache. This makes sense because my job is very important to me and makes sure I can take care of myself and my family.” As much as this feels like just saying what you already know, this can have a calming effect on your mind and body; the idea is that we, “name it to tame it,” or that in identifying what we’re feeling, the intensity of that experience decreases.

    Next, give yourself five minutes to use a strategy for self-regulation, or to help decrease the physical parts of the stress you’re feeling. A few ideas are:

    • Box Breaths: 4 second inhale, 4 second pause, 4 second exhale, 4 second pause.  Repeat 5 times.
    • Take 5 Sensory Grounding: for each minute, focus on one of your senses: What can you see, hear, taste, touch, and feel? If your mind starts to wander during the exercise, notice this and gently bring your attention back to a sensation (e.g. the texture of the wood grain on a park bench, the taste of your coffee as you take a sip)
    • Cross Crawl: if safe to do so, alternate touching your right elbow to your left knee, then your left elbow to your right knee. Aim to do this at a slow, controlled pace. The bilateral stimulation, plus the focus on maintaining your balance and coordinating a rhythm can help regulate your breathe and shift your attention away from the source of stress for a few moments.

    Next, find one thing that you can do today to help prepare yourself for whatever change you anticipate.  Here are a few ideas, but I invite you to get creative and make a list for yourself if you can!

    • If you’re worried about losing or changing your job, look at the WorkBC website. There are plenty of free, self-directed resources you can use, and a list of other sources of information to get you thinking. Or, you can look on a job posting site like Indeed and look at postings that would fit for you. You can even apply for jobs if you feel prepared.
    • If you are looking for resources and services in your area for childcare, housing, in-home care, or other social services, call 211 or visit their website at It is a free and confidential service that can connect you to appropriate professionals, businesses, and programs based on your needs and location.
    • If you’re stressed about an important relationship, reach out to the person and set up a time to talk, or write out a letter / email (that you don’t have to send) just to get all your thoughts down on paper. This can help you feel like you’re taking charge of the situation and remind you of what is in your control, and protect time to work on it.

    In combination, these strategies can help you make steps towards meaningful goals and shape change towards your desired future. Though life always comes with risk and challenges, reminding yourself of what you can do and protecting time to do it makes a big difference! If you feel you might benefit from support in reviewing your options during a time of change, or would like to discuss strategies to support your mental health, reach out to to speak to our counsellor.