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Five ways to cope with unexpected change

Change can affect people very differently. We may be able to see it as a positive next phase of our lives, or we may see it as an anxiety-inducing bump in the road. Sudden change can feel particularly difficult, especially when the situation is out of our hands.

Over the last 18 months, lots of us have come to experience change out of our control. Decisions have been made around us and for us that have impacted our daily routines and plans. This can have a big effect on our mental health, and so it’s important to recognise the signs of when we might be struggling, and implement coping strategies.

Signs that you may be struggling with stress:

  • You may feel demotivated, overwhelmed or feel unable to focus
  • You may notice your sleep is affected; with difficulties getting to sleep or getting out of bed
  • You may find you are more quick to anger, or have a general sense of irritability
  • You may find that your mood is significantly lower, and you’re experiencing worry or nerves over situations you would usually be able to manage.

If you recognise these signs, here are some ways to try to manage that stress.

  1. Try to remember that even ‘good change’ can cause stress - a new house, a baby, a new job - stress is the body’s natural response to processing change. It may take some time to settle into a new routine, or to come to terms with a loss - be kind and patient with yourself.
  2. Anchoring yourself with a consistent routine can be helpful. It may be a way of getting back a sense of control in your day. Have breakfast at the same time, or always go for a walk at 7pm. Find small, positive activities that you can do throughout your day that will help your brain to regain the power you may feel you have lost.
  3. If you find that you are overwhelmed by thoughts of the future, and how this new change will impact your life, try to ground yourself in the present. There are many grounding techniques available online and in our resources section. You may find that repeating a mantra to yourself is helpful. This is a short, simple but powerful statement that helps the brain to both focus, and reduce any spiralling thought patterns. Try to come up with something that is personal to you. A few examples are: “I am enough”, “This feeling won’t last forever”, “Everything I need is within me”.
  4. Look after yourself. Sometimes when we are caught up in change, we can neglect ourselves and our physical health. Try to eat healthily, exercise and get a good night’s sleep. These may feel like simple things, but they feed into the idea of having a consistent routine. Also, we know that a healthy body can help form a healthy mind. Instead of reaching for unhealthy comfort foods (which will cause a sugar crash later on… causing more emotional strain) take time to cook a meal, you will feel a sense of achievement and control.
  5. Reach out to others. You may feel like you are the only person impacted by a sudden change, or you may feel that because everyone around you is impacted, they may not want to talk about it. Regardless of who is affected, if it is something that is causing you stress, make sure you access support. This may be through a vent to a friend, or a long conversation with a family member. Talking things through can help us process, but also can give us the space to reflect and see other points of view. Letting the people around you know that you are struggling means they are more likely to treat you with care if you are irritable, or stressed out.

If you find that you are developing poor coping strategies to manage this sudden change, or you become preoccupied and unable to function in your usual day to day life, do seek the support of a professional, by visiting your GP. And remember you can always text SHOUT to 85258 speak to a trained volunteer about your experiences.