Change. It’s an inevitable as death and taxes. And yet many of us find change to be challenging and can throw us into a state of turmoil. Yes, there are some reading this who would say they’re great with change, and yet I imagine if you’re one of those people it may be more like positive change being welcome. What about change that’s outside of your control? That’s going to make your life more challenging? Change of your health, financial or marital status?
Change is not just things being different or having new experiences. Change is also our experience when adversity strikes. When things go wrong, or something happens we don’t ask for.
The field of Positive Psychology has specifically sought to answer how we as humans can better cope with change, and even thrive through it. The concept of resilience has been a major part of this discussion, and in particular, what mental traits or type of mindset allows people to be transition through change well or bounce back quickly after adversity occurs.
Coping is a personal and subjective thing. It is more than just ‘getting by’, it’s our ability to still perform, function and be mentally and emotionally ok through the process of change. So how can you tell if you’re really not coping?
There are many signs and symptoms of poor coping, and you may notice some of these can also be signs associated with chronic stress:
- Fatigue, exhaustion or lower energy than normal
- Being emotionally sensitive, irritative, lashing out or overreacting
- Difficulty concentrating, easily distracted
- Significant change in character – just not being your normal self
- Poor or disrupted sleep, or excessive sleep
- Appreciate things less, complain more
- Jumping to conclusions or assuming the worst is going to happen
- Feeling run down, drained or even feeling wound up, lots of nervous tension
- Frequent crying, leaning on others to feel ok or be reassured
- Make risky choices, poor decisions
- Increased use or abuse of substances (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription medication or illicit drugs)
- Performance drop at work, increase absence/sick leave
- Impaired memory – forgetting/missing meetings, deadlines, commitments
If you experience one or two of the above, you’re probably coping ok and might have times where your stress levels get a bit high for short periods. However, if you can see many of these symptoms in yourself (or recognise them in someone you care able), these can be pretty serious if they go on long-term. Chronic stress or poor coping abilities can be a precursor to mental illnesses, such as depressive or anxiety-based disorders. Prevention is best, but early intervention is important so things don’t become debilitating.
What is a resilient mindset?
Resilience is “the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity” (Masse, 2009). What a resilience mindset looks like has been a major focus of research within the positive psychology movement for the last 20 years or so and some really useful advice has come from the discoveries in the research. I’ll simplify the jargon and keep the good advice nice and simple:
- Nurture strengths and downplay deficits – focus on your capabilities and not overly focus on what your weaknesses are (this is not to say don’t work on your weaknesses, but rather don’t let what you’re not good at bring you down)
- Be self-aware – know what’s going on in your body and in your mind. If you’re not functioning well, acknowledge it and then proactively do something about it.
- Focus on what you can control, rather than what you can’t – there’s literally no point stressing about what’s out of your control; rather, identify what is within your control and focus on that – it’s much more empowering!
- Speak up – a burden shared is a burden halved. Use your social support and talk about what your worries and stresses are. Let your loved ones talk you through it or just be an empathetic sounding board. If you’re not sure if your friends or family are helpful, there are many great professionals who can fit the bill, such as psychologists, counsellors, life coaches, social workers and even a GP
- Become more optimistic – the research has clearly shown that those who are more optimistic and see the glass as half-full are more likely to be resilient and cope better with change. In order to become more optimistic, read below about the 3P’s to challenge any pessimistic thinking that’s bringing you down
The 3 P’s
Research has shown that there are 3 key ways in which Optimisits differ from Pessimists. This is where the 3 P’s were developed, based on these key differences.
- Permanence – pessimists will view a change or adversity as always being a problem or affecting them, they can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Whereas, optimists will see it as temporary, transient or understand that things will get better with time
- Pervasiveness - pessimists will perceive a change or adversity as being pervasive, in that if affects all aspects of life (one thing affects everything). Optimists instead view it as specific to the part of their life it affects, without losing any sense of perspective or appreciation in other areas of their life
- Personal – pessimists take the change or adversity personally, believing it’s a personal attack or that it’s their bad luck happening again. Optimists will see the adversity or change as being something that’s happened but isn’t a reflection on them, they don’t take it personally and understand that this situation is not unique to them.
Using the 3 P’s, by asking yourself:
Is this Permanent? (Will it really matter in a week? A month? A year?)
Is this Pervasive? (Will it impact on my family life? My social scene?)
Is this Personal? (Is it really about ME as a person or is it a work/uni/friends problem)?
Improving coping and resilience with good habits
Beyond mindset or perspective-taking, resilience is also supported by common sense habits that are healthy for our minds and body’s. This includes:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
- Get enough sleep
- Take time out to relax and recharge your batteries
- Connect to others, a purpose and/or to your spirituality
- Practice the art of gratitude
- Problem-solve as well as emotionally support and soothe yourself
- Spend time in nature
- Learn to switch off effectively between work and home
With change as inevitable as it is, and given resilience is a desirable quality in both professional and personal environments, there are many reasons to develop and build up your skills and habits that are good for you. Some will take practice and some trial and error, but engaging in them a little bit each day will go a long way.
If you have any questions, would like further resources or have comments on this blog, you’re invited to either contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or add your comment to this blog!
Masten, A. S. (2009). Ordinary Magic: Lessons from research on resilience in human development. Education Canada, 49(3): 28-32