Our world can suddenly change in a flash or change may slowly loom closer and closer. We find ourselves facing, dodging, fearing the uncertainty, and struggle to accept the truth. The truth that our life is changing. Change is happening all the time, but some changes are dramatic whether expected or not.
We experience metamorphosis many times during our lives from childhood to adulthood as we become independent, married, parents/grandparents, divorced, retired, older, poorly, and so on. Every life stage sends us into a state of flux as the familiar becomes history and the new is unknown territory.
Change challenges our sense of self, our identity and leaves us feeling insecure, out of our depth, unnerved or damn right scared at times. Even positive changes can leave us jaded and more than a little out of our comfort zone. Grieving for what once was and overwhelmed and ill-prepared for the new. An internal battle can take place as we mentally and emotionally resist the change, which undoubtedly adds to the pain and stress we are experiencing.
Change can provoke a state of anxiety and stress which may only last a short period of time for some and may feel mild and manageable, but you may find it feels overwhelming and that it is literally stopping you in your tracks and preventing you from moving on. Clients often describe feeling stuck, frozen even scared of what the future holds for them which is a natural reaction because the body and mind’s stress responses are triggered by the unknown, the unfamiliar, and if you do not feel emotionally, physically, or practically prepared for the changes you are going through or heading towards then your stress response system will remain activated.
How To Understand Stress Caused By Change
In the short term, stress may not a problem and indeed a lot of research suggests short-lived experiences of stress can help us manage life’s challenges better in the future as it responds effectively to stress and is then able to return to a relaxed state naturally. However, during long periods of stress or when the mind and body have not processed the event successfully the stress response system remains activated. Specific neural pathways are kept running on full power while others remain shut down which can result in permanent damage to both and makes it more difficult for the mind and body to switch back to a relaxed state. But with the right support from a counsellor not only can we prevent the damage being done in the first place but we can repair any damage caused in many instances as the brain is designed to adapt and restructure itself over time.
Left unregulated, though, an overly activated stress response system will take its toll. Plenty of research links stress to IBS, cardiovascular and memory problems, aches, and pains to name just a few long-term effects. Stress is often the reason people turn to alcohol, food, and drugs but as we all know they too can lead to physical and mental health problems for some and they do not address the cause of your stress. In short, you can ignore your stress but you cannot avoid the damage it can cause because it will remain on red alert until you pay attention to what is or has triggered it and find healthy ways of managing it. You are often aware in advance of changes that are coming your way so you have some warning, in turn, some time to prepare yourself. The process starts by acknowledging how you feel right now and allowing yourself to experience those feelings because they will guide you to what you need to safely move on. Trust me you cannot escape from your feelings and they will become more intense until you gently explore them and find out what they are trying to say to you.
Counselling and anxiety therapy will help you explore them safely without them overwhelming you. You may only need a few coaching sessions to work out the best way forward for you or you may need more if you are going through or have gone through sudden changes.