Like the impending shift of the seasons, change is inevitable. Recently as I was walking beside my house, I noticed a gold leaf slowly descend from its tree to the ground. Then another. Then another. Such change. I was sad and reflective because this meant winter was coming.
Major changes like the start of a new season are also present in the workplace. Just as many people felt stressed when they were sent home to work remotely in March 2020, nearly two years later many are experiencing the same sense of dread about returning to in-person work. But why? Shouldn’t returning to the previously comfortable “normal” offer some relief?
What is change?
Change is the move to a new future state. Kurt Lewin, the father of modern social psychology, confirms there is resistance between the push toward a new state and the pull to maintain the status quo. Resistance is driven by concern for the change process and its outcome. Now that employees are returning to in-person work, they may wonder, How am I going to do this? just as they did when they were asked to work from home. Change is stressful.
There is a quote from Hans Selye, author of Stress for Life, that explains how “It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” Returning to work is a new demand that has been placed on us. Our beliefs about our capacity to cope with the demand are engaged, and we react with either:
- A physical response
- A thought response
- A behavioural response
- Or all of the above!
5 Steps to Cope with Change
To help mitigate the effects of stress caused by change, ask yourself: What am I thinking? What emotions am I experiencing? Be aware of where you are at in the moment, and be brave by taking these five steps to help you cope:
- Pause: Give yourself permission to pause in order to calm the emotional brain and engage the logical brain. It is okay to have emotions, we aren’t robots. Emotions are signals to our internal dashboard that help us stay in touch with reality.
- Breathe: Take a few deep breaths to regulate your body’s systems. Breathe in for the count of four and exhale for the count of four. Do this four times!
- Think: Change your experience of something by altering how you look at it! Thoughts contribute greatly to how we perceive stress, so don’t let your mind play tricks on you (cognitive distortions) and convince you of something that isn’t true.
- Decide: Consider your options, the pros and cons, and the best course of action. Do not carry around decisions that need to be made as this can cause more stress.
- Plan and Prepare: Make a plan for yourself to support your new future state, and avoid reverting back to the old, comfortable-but-unhealthy ways of thinking and feeling. Do not hesitate to reach out to others who can support your plan in practical ways and with healthy energy!
Now consider the tree in my backyard from a new perspective. The gold leaf has served its purpose on the tree. Before it falls, it provides nutrients to the tree. When it falls to the ground and blows away, sometimes across great distances, it helps fertilize other trees and creates new life.
When it comes to dealing with change, you are as resilient as the tree. Resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to [adversity] or change.” And as Steve Maraboli puts it, “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving; we get stronger and more resilient.” So honour your resiliency – your ability to manage incoming demands – to keep a positive mind and remain productive.
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