Change is an unavoidable part of life for most people, and when our lives change for the better, it can be a positive experience. But when change comes unexpectedly, such as in the form of a job loss due to consolidation, we are forced to grapple with sudden shifts. Those sudden changes don’t just force a perspective-shift; they may cause a physical and cognitive reaction.
When we experience something unexpected, our brain goes through what author Tania Luna calls the “surprise sequence.” Have you found yourself frozen and not sure what to think, say or do after receiving some unsettling news? What about feeling intense emotions? These reactions are all part of this surprise sequence, and this can be an uncomfortable experience, as most of us are not accustomed to dealing with uncertainty or change.
As Levin says, “our cognitive resources are basically hijacked and pulled into the moment.” Indeed, surprises cause humans to freeze physically for a fraction of a second.
But what about the rest of that second? What can you do when you feel frozen after hearing you’ve been laid off? How do you handle the feelings of shock, disbelief, panic, worry or sadness when you’ve been told that your company is merging with another? Or when you experience any other countless unexpected change that could drop at your feet at any moment?
Here are some tips to help manage your health and well-being during times of uncertainty:
- Honor your feelings, as they’re a normal part of being human. Give yourself grace and time to process all your feelings, but be sure to do it in a constructive manner.
- Find a way to manage the stress and anxiety by practicing self-care. This is different for everyone, so find what works for you (e.g., taking a walk, working out, meditating, cooking, talking with a close friend, etc.).
- Focus on the parts that you can control and let go of what you cannot. It may help to write out a to-do list of the tasks and activities you want to accomplish, so you can feel a sense of accomplishment when you’ve checked something off your list.
- Understand that your brain is programmed to avoid and fear change. When these sorts of thoughts pop up, take a moment and reshape the thought in your brain to something that highlights why this change is good.
Employers and organizations undergoing rapid and potentially painful changes can help mitigate the negative consequences for their employees with these tips:
- Take time to observe your employees. Pay attention to what they are saying and doing (or not doing).
- Demonstrate your genuine concern by opening the lines of communication between management and employees — and encourage input from employees.
- Fix what you can, but avoid overpromising that you or the business cannot deliver.
- Be positive and look for opportunities to create solutions to the new challenges.
- Provide training and development opportunities to help employees transition into new roles, whether at your company or others.
Developing your mental resilience can help you get through a sudden professional change, but it can also help you deal with tough times outside the office. When thinking about how people can learn to cope with difficult situations, I often turn to a powerful quote from Amy Morin, author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do: Take Back Your Power, Embrace Change, Face Your Fears, and Train Your Brain for Happiness and Success.”
Morin writes, “Proactively working to develop mental strength increases your resilience to stress and reduces the toll it takes on you both physically and mentally.”
In other words, yes, change is inevitable. But if we learn the right way to manage it, we can find ourselves stronger and better prepared to take it on.