Updated: Jun 12, 2019
Coping with change is not something we are able to do easily. We are creatures of habit and routine, and when those habits and routines are disrupted – especially when the new situation comes with strong emotions of anger, sadness, and grief – we struggle to cope.
The most difficult part is that to heal and move on, we must begin the process of letting go – another thing we are not so good at. But the truth is, to create a fulfilling life, especially after tragic or stressful or difficult events, we must often release stagnant energy or situations that have built up within our energetic fields. We must release the old to invite the new.
Letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care anymore – it is just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself. YOU are in the driver’s seat.
Letting go always means saying good bye to one thing in order to say “hello” to something else. The catch here is that we often don’t want to let go of the old way, person, or situation! If you find yourself caught in this dilemma, it may feel hopeless. You might think you’ll never make it past the stage you’re in.
But you will! In your own time, and in your own way.
Whatever happened that changed the course of your everyday life, the outcome is always that you have to cope with something new. Maybe:
You lost a partner or a beloved one.
You had to divorce, your partner left with someone else, or your relationship ended.
You were laid off or fired.
You had to quit something you love for reasons beyond your control.
You moved to another location, either by choice or by necessity.
Your child moved out or your family living situation changed (you are taking care of an aging parent, housing a relative, etc.)
Your financial situation changed.
The real difficulty is that you have to acknowledge and deal with the pain.
How long it takes you to cope and to start new depends on how close you were to the person or situation. Your stress level might be higher with an extremely close relationship or a change in situation where you lost something you truly loved.
Death and divorce, for example, are the top two on the stress scale, a useful and simple tool to help you evaluate how much stress is happening in your life.
The Stress Scale
You may hear all different people in your life throw around the word “stress.” You may even use the word yourself to describe your day, certain situations, or how you feel a lot of the time. But what is stress?
According to Richard S. Lazarus, “stress is a condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that ‘demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.’” Basically, we feel stressed when "things are out of control."
Truthfully, we all deal with stress. What matters is the kind of stress and how we cope with it, because the amount and type of stress you have can affect you in many different ways. Exciting events like having a baby or starting a new job can cause stress, as can dealing with financial issues or a long term illness.
The problem comes when you deal with too many stressful events at once or too much stress over time.
Below is a Stress Scale. To score your stress levels, simply select Yes or No for each of the events in the Statements column that have happened to you in the last year. Then add up your “points” to get your stress scale total.
This table is taken from "The Social Readjustment Rating Scale", Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Volume 11, Issue 2, August 1967, Pages 213-218, Copyright © 1967 Published by Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce granted by the publisher.
43 Statements to Answer Yes No
9 Marital reconciliation (45)
10 Retirement (45)
11 Change in health of family member (44)
12 Pregnancy (40)
13 Sex difficulties (39)
14 Gain of new family member (39)
15 Business readjustment (39)
16 Change in financial state (38)
17 Death of close friend (37)
18 Change to a different line of work (36)
19 Change in number of arguments with spouse (35)
20 A large mortgage or loan (31)
21 Foreclosure of mortgage or loan (30)
22 Change in responsibilities at work (29)
23 Son or daughter leaving home (29)
24 Trouble with in-laws (29)
25 Outstanding personal achievement (28)
26 Spouse begins or stops work (26)
27 Begin or end school/college (26)
28 Change in living conditions (25)
29 Revision of personal habits (24)
30 Trouble with boss (23)
31 Change in work hours or conditions (20)
32 Change in residence (20)
33 Change in school/college (20)
34 Change in recreation (19)
35 Change in church activities (19)
36 Change in social activities (18)
37 A moderate loan or mortgage (17)
38 Change in sleeping habits (16)
39 Change in number of family get-togethers (15)
40 Change in eating habits (15)
41 Vacation (13)
42 Christmas (12)
43 Minor violations of the law (11)
You may have noticed there are both positive and negative situations on the stress list. Yes, even positive situations have a certain level of stress because they require you to adapt to change.
For most of us in change situations, we don’t feel ready, competent and able to deal with it from the beginning. We tend to deal with change on a learning curve.
How you cope or adapt with life situations is very personal and it depends on you, your experiences in life, your mindset, and your ability to deal with change. People who often face difficult situations become used to change and can speed the process up, but for most of us, we have to learn to deal with it and the process can feel slow.
Dealing with death, divorce, illness, and other similar situations also slows you down. Whatever situation you are in, whatever job you have, you are forced to slow down, take your time to understand, to grieve, to say good bye to the person or old way of life – and eventually, to cope.
And - just in case the scale shows you that your numbers are high at this particular moment in your life, it doesn’t mean things can’t change for the better. The way we react, act, or cope is different for each individual – it is just an indicator like any other test. Dealing with the “top” of the scale will likely take more time than someone who had a low stress scale number.
By managing stress you have to manage your energy, your body, your mind, and your emotions – this is what it is about! And in these phases or when you’re on unfamiliar turf, it’s perfectly okay to ask for professional help.
You are the one in your life who cares for yourself - taking a time out regularly should be on top of your list - time to reload, reflect and rethink. At our Kaleidoscope retreats we work on these topics – letting go, starting new, or moving on.
A Way through Difficult Life Transitions
Pain is a pathway, albeit not a fun one. The lessons we learn when we’re grieving, failing, struggling or falling are priceless. They’re concentrated doses of personal evolution. A transition is always a change process – and where there’s change, there’s growth or at least the chance to.
But it’s easy to forget: growth can only happen if we allow ourselves to show up, and lean into the pain. Running or trying to ignore the pain means you risk losing the lesson. (And often, it also means you’ll have to face that pain again at some point).
To grow through what we go through - you have to understand what is going on and you have to have a proper mindset because you cannot control what is happening to you but you can control your inner world in terms of how you react and cope.
In my last blog post, I introduced you to the “Change Curve,” a very useful tool developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to explain the 5 stages of the grieving process. I explain in that blog post how, when my first husband died in 1992, I adapted the process to include 7 phases.
And if you look around there are a lot of curves, and they all have between 5-8 phases. Mine worked best for me and a lot of my clients, too. My personal approach is to use something as long as it serves me but it’s always possible to change or adapt things to best fit you and your situation. The important thing is the outcome and whatever serves my clients - not about right or wrong.
The Change Curve – The 7 Steps of Change
The following is an in-depth look at what happens during each of the 7 steps in the change curve.
Surprise or shock (even when good things happen) can make you hold your breath for a short time, because you’re not sure what the situation requires you to do. Your brain may be caught in a fight or flight response, and needs time to assess and react. This can even be true for a joyous, beautiful occasion like having a baby. Just as in ancient times, you might stand still before this unexpected thing before your instincts are able to go to full capacity again.
In severe moments, like accidents, you can even fall into a coma because your body shuts down the system to cope, or you are experiencing trauma. This might be a reaction to give yourself time to cope.
When you’re in shock, you are experiencing a difference between your perceptions or expectations of what would happen, and what actually happened in reality.
The denial stage includes disbelief, looking for evidence that it is true, and dealing with a false perception/overestimation of your own competence or capability to go through. Something in between “this will work out” and “this is not real.”
You might say things like “No way, this is not true” or “Not me - not my family.”
This is when you hit reality. You start to recognize that things are different or the bad or stressful situation really happened. Sometimes you’ll feel angry.
You say things like, “OMG, this is real,” “I did not ask for this in my life,” “who decided this?” “if there is a God out there, why did this happen,” and “why me?”
4. “Depression” – (Emotional) Acceptance
During this stage, you may experience a low mood, and lack energy. You are coping with feelings, dealing with grief, and working on letting go.
You may decide to take time off, slow down, or “just sit here until life gets easier.”
During this time, you are letting go of old patterns, routines, habits, and beliefs.
5. Experiment/Trial and Error
Finally, you are able to take the first steps toward the new situation. You begin looking for alternatives to the old way. This includes thoughts of “How do I live life without?” “How do I deal with this?” “What else is possible?” and “Maybe this works?” as you try different ways of coping.
Now you are making the decision that it is possible to go on and that you want to go on.
You begin learning how to cope and work in the new context or situation, and you find yourself feeling more positive! You learn what works, and what does not. You have maybe even found a way to use some new ways and some old ways, in combination.
In this last stage, changes are integrated. You have become a renewed individual, and again can focus on your own personal development instead of just trauma, grief, or recovery. You integrate the new into your life – while having full strength and power in the new situation.
How to Move through the Phases
Now that you are familiar with what the different phases are like, here are some suggestions for moving through them.
Here the surprising moments are determining the situation – you need a bit of time to understand and assess the situation mentally, physically, and emotionally.
The “fight or flight” or collapse mode is activated.
If you know someone in this stage, you can help them by just being there. Observe if you can be of help or call for help– some collapse with severe issues, some seem like they’re in a trance. There are a lot of different reactions and scenarios.
When I had my car accident – where I needed my guardian angel in full size – I heard the Emergency car and the medicine say - ok, shock – be fast to stabilize – and after that I woke up in hospital.
And when my first husband died unexpectedly, after I received the call I drove there on autopilot, and thankfully had no accident. When I arrived and saw him dead, I collapsed.
With less severe issues, you can help people by telling them to breathe in and out, to sit down and to have a glass of water. Let them talk, or ask questions, or stay quiet – the most important thing you can do is to be there.
After shock, the denial phase starts with phrases like, “this is unreal, this did not happen, it is not about me, they can’t mean me.”
The “experienced” competence can be higher because you might try to not accept it. If you blend it out, you do not have to cope! At least, this is what you tell yourself. The opposite is the key. But you still must battle those beliefs such as, this is unreal, this isn’t happening to me.
But it is real – it just happened. There is a need to accept that it is like it is, this happened. With severe issues, there is a chance that people collapse, because the realization, when it hits, is tough. (He /she really left, it happened, they fired me, etc.)
Hiding, denying or getting around the pain can never be the plan.
To help someone in this phase, be empathetic, be helpful – try to understand what is going on and tell the truth to them. “What if” sentences could be a bridge to go from denial to realization:
“What if there is another person in his or her life, what if you get a better job, etc.”
In this phase you have mostly realized it - whatever happened - not “in full” but you know that what is – is. Even so, your focus is mostly problem-oriented, past-oriented or focused on quick fixes that you hope might solve the problem.
Whatever you come up with to cope is okay! (Unless it involves hurting yourself or other people).
To help someone in this stage, acknowledging them with a yes statement validates how they are feeling. Try to avoid a “YES, but” response, because this is basically a no and takes away from what the person is saying.
While you do need to understand what they tell you or go through – you do not need to accept all of their reactions if they talk about scenarios of revenge. And while revenge can feel like a natural approach because you have been hurt, it is a very short moment possibly followed by a very long moment where you have to deal with the consequences.
At this stage there are lots of feelings and struggles going on, but it is not up to you to assess this! A better choice is just to be helpful by reminding them of the consequences of their ideas. Or you can just listen and be clear and honest about what is.
There is also a natural tendency to want the WHY questions answered: “Why me?” “Why them?” “Why him or why her?” There are no answers that can help you, or not the answers we are seeking. Asking “Why?” is just a very normal reaction and another way to try to understand or cope. As time goes on the why becomes less important - you have to trust me on this!
Whatever gives you or others hope is good unless you aren’t coping with it. Denying that someone died or denying what happened makes it difficult or impossible to move on – so whatever makes you move on and live a happy and fulfilled life is good!
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” is a good reminder, and was always a quote my mom used.
3. Emotional Acceptance
Here you may find yourself in the valley of tears. You experience emotionally low vibes because your body needs energy to grieve and to cope. The good news is, tears are catharsis! There is a need to let go of emotions to come into the flow of life again.
Catharsis: the process of releasing strong emotions through a particular activity or experience, such as writing or theatre, in a way that helps you to understand those emotions.
Acknowledge the pain! Allow yourself to go through. Let go of shame and accept the circumstances as a necessary step toward the future. Push past the pain so that you don’t become bitter or angry for the rest of your life.
Take time to grieve and to feel what is there: anger, mourning, sadness, or any other feeling you experience. Whatever is there, express it in a helpful way. Quick, reactive, impulsive reactions might have irreversible consequences.
It might be good to write it down, to talk to someone, to just sit in a beloved place, to walk in nature, or another activity you choose.
Whatever comes up, let it go through. Just observe what is happening. Do not judge feelings – do not correct them – experience them and let go – give them to a passing cloud.
And do not take action that would hurt others or yourself. Try to help prevent other people from being aggressive to themselves and others.
Feelings will change as time passes by, and as you set your mind and make decisions.
The popular proverb on everyone’s lips is: Time heals all wounds. Truthfully, time does not heal all wounds. The human psyche is not infinitely resilient and robust.
But time will help in dealing with your situation and eventually seeing different perspectives. You will understand, and maybe even accept how someone treated you. You might forgive but not forget. But this does not mean you have to think and react the same way you used to. You learn and decide how to deal with something. Coping is also a decision!
The issue here is to try to look at things from different perspectives. This can even be funny or make you smile (even in between the deepest grieving!)
4. Trial and Error
You really must set up your mind and make a decision to move on because without that, you won’t try.
You can ask yourself questions, such as:
Am I willing to put in the work necessary to grow and go past this?
Are you willing to do what it takes to proactively change or cope?
How did I get here? And what would I do different next time?
What areas of my life do I need to grow in so this does not happen again?
What do I really, really want and need? And how do I get it?
People do the same stuff until it doesn’t work anymore. They have to become curious for something or want something badly or be in so much pain that they have to change.
There are only these reasons for change.
This means you have to be somehow convinced to try something new, and be okay if it doesn’t work because you know you can try something else. Only by trial and error will you learn and implement something new. There will be success and fall backs (or “learnings”) – but this is the only way to move on. By doing!
If facing the pain and accepting “what is” is challenging, you will change and grow. Sometimes the circumstances might catch you, and this might force you to change, leaving you to feel like you are not in the driver’s seat anymore. The sooner you let go of painful, hurting reactions like anger, rage, or revenge – the better for your mental health.
With negative thoughts and mind games you push yourself into the wrong direction. Your memories become increasingly distressing and provide no new insights. It’s like listening to bad news on the radio or television: we tend to do it a few times per day even though we know there’s no benefit, it’s the same awful stuff and just heaps on even more for our brain to cope with.
Not letting go allows mind games to play out in your head. By doing this you allow “others” to dominate your thoughts and dictate your actions. It’s like pressing the replay button on a painful video!
So just know the choice is yours, always!
When I had to cope with an affair and a lot of cheating and mistreating in a partnership – thank goodness I had my dogs and I had to go outside with them. I went into nature to walk and think through – best thing ever.
When you try, you learn and when you learn, you implement new things. When you have painful experiences, even hard experiences – try to embrace them, go through, and learn from them. This is the simple path to growth (simple, not necessarily easy!)
By getting feedback on new things and on trying something, you get insights and an understanding of what works for you and what doesn’t. New insights are so valuable, because what you gain from them cannot be lost!
When you build up boundaries and walls because of being hurt, it does not serve you. Those walls keep things out, even the good things. They also keep things in, and it’s often stuff that needs to go! Those walls block energies and prevent you from getting into the flow again.