Change is an opportunity to embrace and grow beyond what feels comfortable says Lynda Shaw

Change can be extremely good for our brain and mental health. As 90-95% of the way we operate day to day is done unconsciously, this means that only 5% of our cognitive activities – which include behaviour, decisions, emotions and actions – are conscious.

But not all of us like change because it can come hand in hand with uncertainty, loss, confusion and anxiety. Unmanageable, prolonged uncertainty makes the brain hypervigilant in response to the sense of threat. Studies show that uncertainty is scarier and more stressful than known outcomes, whether they are good or bad. Our brain endeavours to reduce uncertainty and demands extra energy from the body and increases hormones like cortisol. If the uncertainty from the change is not reduced then the brain can become overloaded and you can display symptoms of stress, like insomnia, low mood and anxiety, high blood pressure and headaches.

What really helps is a growth (positive) mindset which can be the deal breaker between you doing something or not.  The outcomes are predictably in favour of someone who is often positive rather than someone who is usually negative. Being positive and facing change is the best way to learn, grow and move on.

Top Tips for Managing Change

1. Challenge yourself

Are you approaching it with a ‘can’t do’ fixed mindset? We are inclined to choose options with a familiar and known outcome. Push yourself to consider other options and do your research.  Avoid having a narrowing or shrinking fixed mindset, aim for a growth mindset. The brain is fantastically adaptable, and the chances are you can do it. It’s an opportunity to move into your learning zone. Be nimble.

2. Control your emotions, so they don’t control you

It is completely fine to feel emotions like anger, anxiety, fear or sadness and it is important to sometimes just sit with those emotions. But your mood can influence your decisions and interactions so there is also a point when you should acknowledge them and try to move past them.

3. Be your own friend and praise yourself

Whilst it is important to enjoy non-toxic, supportive relationships with your partner, friends, colleagues and family, having your own strong inner support system is important during times of change.  Talk to yourself in the same way you would speak to and coach a friend. Dismiss constant negative internal chatter and replace it with gratitude and an occasional self-pat on the back for trying your best.

4. Fail well

Some say reach for the stars and push yourself over and beyond. Others advise you to have reasonable, achievable expectations to avoid deep disappointment.  Either way learn that its OK to fail and learn how to fail well by picking yourself up and trying again using different tactics.

5. Take your time

Demands for change can trigger our fight or flight instincts, cause stress and debilitate our decision making. “Follow your gut instinct” is not just a metaphor; our brain and gut are connected by an extensive network of neurons and are in constant communication.  It’s harder though to make good decisions when stressed as we are less reflective and more impulsive. Try to take a little time to make hard decisions, allow yourself time to reflect before you respond and to summon your strength in case it is needed.

6. Schedule in creative/innovative time

This way you have the space to think, and reassess what is your calling, what are your passions, what you need and what is important to you. We need time and space to create lightbulb moments.

7. Good health is crucial to giving you strength

Make sure you are sleeping enough and eating well. Obstacles can seem insurmountable when you are overtired and you will feel less motivated, have trouble concentrating and be less productive.

8. Watch out for feeling overwhelmed by stress during times of change

Stress alters practically every part of our body including brain functions such as memory and cognitive ability. In times of change and stress, allocate time for stress combating exercise such as yoga, meditation, walking, or going to the gym or simply relaxing and doing your favourite things.  Always take time out.

Dr Lynda Shaw is a change specialist, regular professional speaker, chartered psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist and author. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and Fellow and ... (Read More)

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