I’m seeing a lot of change fatigue lately—the cumulative stress that sets in when people have been pressured to make too many major life transitions in quick succession. Are you struggling to navigate the turbulent waters of grief, loss or the knock-on effect of rapid changes in your life? What can help you cross that treacherous stretch of turbulence from shocked denial to acceptance—and ultimately on to planning for the future?
While it’s never easy, the key is in how you view change, and your ability to accept uncertainty. The number one stress trigger for all of us (to varying degrees) is not change in itself; but the uncertainty it generates.
Whether its retrenchment, a natural disaster, shifting market trends, health status, bereavement, or relationship breakdown, it’s the implications – real or imagined that create uncertainty.
How will I handle this? How will I, or my family, or colleagues cope is a common response.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross looked at the way people come to terms with the news that they have a terminal illness, and developed a model called the Transition or Change Curve. Later studies showed that people react in similar ways to bereavement and to radical changes in their lives. Changes like these:
• Loss of dreams, expectations or beliefs
• Loss of sense of security
• Loss of income, livelihood or financial stability
• Change of environment
• Loss of cultural identity
• Loss of a loved one
• Loss of longstanding personal identity
• A loved one’s serious illness
• Loss of a friendship
• Loss of sense of safety after trauma
• Loss of home
• Loss of health
• Relationship or family breakup
• Loss of social status
While different types of loss affect different people in different ways, many experience the following symptoms.
• Shock and disbelief – Right after a loss, it can be hard to accept what happened. You may feel numb, find it hard to believe the loss really happened, or take refuge in denial.
• Sadness or temporary depression – Profound sadness is a commonly experienced symptom of grief and loss. You may feel empty, lonely, or yearn for the way things were. Mood swings and emotional instability are common.
• Guilt – You may regret or feel guilty about things you did, or could have or should have said or done, that may have changed the outcome.
• Anger and/or blame – The urge to make sense of a life changing upheaval often triggers a need to blame someone or something for what’s happened.
• Fear – A significant loss can trigger a host of worries and fears, about how you’re going to cope with a situation that may have altered beyond recognition.
• Physical symptoms – The profoundly emotional process of loss is often reflected in stress related illnesses.
The stress induced “temporary insanity” brought on by sudden loss of a familiar anchor or touchstone can be very scary and disorienting.
Trying to avoid feelings of sadness and loss only prolongs the grieving process. Unresolved grief can also lead to complications like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems. So, it’s important to express your feelings in a tangible or creative way and start taking back control with a strategic plan.
Regaining a sense of stability brings us face to face with the central question of stress mastery:
What can I influence and how can I learn to accept what I have no influence whatsoever over?
Here are 10 ways to make this process easier:
1. Although when stressed the natural urge is to neglect your health and wellbeing – it is vital to do the opposite. Make extreme self care – mental, emotional, spiritual and physical a priority. It helps shift your focus and provides the strength you need to get through this experience.
2. Focus relentlessly on all the positive aspects of your new environment or situation.
3. Accept and immerse yourself in your new adopted culture, situation or status. This facilitates a sense of belonging and helps you form a new identity.
4. Focus relentlessly on what is, instead of what was; what you can do, rather than what you can’t do. This helps you adapt to your new reality more quickly.
5. Although it may be the last thing you feel like doing, reach out, network, and promote the new you. Seek professional help. Don’t try to do it alone.
6. You need to know where you are now. So gather as much information as you can about where you really are, based on evidence, not wishful thinking or over simplified or inaccurate advice.
7. Identify your ideal future position at a particular point in time – how you want to feel and what you want to be doing one year, five years, or ten year’s from now, depending on the situation. If you’re not clear about this, start from the other end. What do you definitely not want to be feeling or doing? Making this plan visual i.e. a chart or diagram, provides clarity and is easier to refer to.
8. Prioritise - be clear about what is crucial. Highlight the top three elements, based on your core values.
9. Work out the milestones between where you are and where you want to be.
10. Build bridges for these with step by step actions.
While there is no right or wrong way to deal with loss, there are healthy ways to cope with the resulting confusion, lack of confidence, pain or discomfort.
The single most important factor in dealing productively with loss is having the support you need.
So speak up; ask for the support you need—and accept it! Turn to friends, family members, appropriate technology, mentors and coaches. Draw on this strength, clarity and expertise, to help you navigate difficult transitions and move on to a healthy, happy and successful future.