“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the unknown.”
These words were written by HP Lovecraft in 1920 and, nearly 100 years on, are still completely relevant.
Most of us fear change; whether that be in the workplace, our relationships, our habitat or our day-to-day rituals.
We’re creatures of habit and any change can trigger feelings of stress and anxiety, deeply linked with fear. This can be fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of the unknown and fear of lack of control.
I admit that I’m a bit of a control freak and I like – and to an extent, need – to be running all aspects of my life with all the information and structure visible. When I’m not, I do not like it; it makes me feel stressed and uncomfortable.
Over the years, I have learned to manage this stress by recognising what it is and, where possible, making the right adjustments to either be more in control or, sometimes, just walk away all together. It’s all about self-preservation and self-care and if feeling wobbly and anxious is avoidable, then avoid you should.
But a lot of the time change is forced upon us, giving us no choice but to deal with it. When this happens, it lands us in alien terrain and can often leave us feeling lost, unsure and out of control. Extreme examples of this are the end of a relationship or a sudden job loss that sees the good ship certainty set sail on choppy, not-so-certain seas.
Often it’s the small shifts of change that can impact our daily lives and happiness. For example, a new person starting at work who just doesn’t gel with your tribe and disrupts the harmony of your work gang. Or if this person is just so amazing and fits in so well, you are bursting with jealousy and imagining all sorts of stapler-related accidents from behind your screen. This is more a sign that this change is tapping into your insecurity about your position and raises your personal self-doubt over your role, likeability and ability.
If a partner ends a relationship, our brain associates it with loss, which we tend not to like, as it’s time – life! – wasting. This is why some people cling onto doomed relationships so much, as setting that counter back to zero is too stressful to imagine.
Another example is friendships. If your close mates start drifting off or finding new friends (the swines!), it can leave you feeling slightly lost and unimportant when often the reality is that they love you just as much as ever but life and priorities have shifted.
Change is everywhere and unavoidable, so instead of fearing it, it’s best we try to understand and make friends with it. Here are a few tips how:
Acknowledge the change
When change is happening, don’t hide away from it. Accept that it’s happening, or going to happen, and this will mentally prepare you to manage it.
Embrace the fear
In light of the change, ask yourself what it is you’re really fearful of. Is it losing that person or job? Is it what people will think or how you’ll be perceived if you ‘fail’? I always like to ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen?
Think of that scenario, write it down and play each eventuality in your head and ask yourself honestly if you could deal with them. More often than not, you can and this will help diffuse any emotional anxiety.
Try to make change your friend
Instead of recoiling in horror at any proposed change, try to look at it and formulate positives. OK, so my role at work is changing and I’ll really miss those people and those projects but what opportunities does this change hold?
Or yes, I’m gutted that relationship has ended but once the dust has settled, I’ll probably see that it ended for a reason and I’ll go on to bigger and better things. Try to see change as an opportunity.
Share your fears
I do bang on about this a lot but it’s only because it works. Speaking about your issues, stresses and fears with those you love and trust really does help, as it can give you fresh perspective, insight and support. So don’t keep your woes to yourself; open up and share and I bet you’ll feel better and ultimately less worried.
Look after yourself
In times of change it may be very tempting to throw a bottle of vino destructo down your neck, but this will only heighten your anxiety and stress levels. To deal with any disruption you need to be on your A game, which means looking after yourself. So eat well, exercise, get some sleep and smile. Get those natural endorphins flowing.