Anything that drops in and shakes up almost every facet of your day-to-day routines is what I like to call Big Change.
It could be moving across the country or starting a new job or ending a serious relationship or deciding to start a family.
In general, Big Change can be quite terrifying, mostly because the uncertainty that it brings about is overwhelming. It’s not like you’re swapping out one tiny piece of the puzzle; it feels like you’re busting up the whole dang thing, mixing up the pieces, and starting over again.
That alone is enough to get someone’s anxiety going. But what makes Big Change even scarier is when it’s brought about by something that is not your choice.
Maybe it’s a relocation because of your job that you didn’t see coming, or a landlord deciding to sell your rental property ?, or being broken up with out of the blue, or even a family crisis that completely turns your world upside down. Whatever the circumstances, this kind of Big Change curveball can send you down an especially stressful spiral because on top of the overwhelm there is a lack of control.
I don’t know about you, but uncertainty mixed with lack of control is the recipe for my ultimate cocktail of stress (aka Anxiety On The Rocks… I do not recommend it.)
When we humans start feeling a lack of control, our natural instinct is to reassert it in any way we can. That’s why, when confronted with Big Change, you’ll likely find yourself tightening your grip on whatever reality you feel you’re about to lose.
Your mind will become preoccupied with all the parts of your day or life that will no longer be the same. Things you never paid any attention to will suddenly feel like precious treasures. (During a break-up:) We’ll never brush our teeth together in the morning again… (Or a move:) That barking dog next door is so cute, I’ll really miss him… (Or a shake-up at work:) I know I always complained about that project, but I’m going to miss complaining with Rhonda after our status meetings…
These are not the things we’re actually grieving the loss of, though. We’re actually just grieving the loss of familiarity, of comfort, of certainty.
In our case, this move wasn’t our idea. It was brought about by something completely outside of our control. Our initial reaction to that was exactly what I described above — clinging as tightly as possible to the home and life we’ve assembled over the past year and a half.
My mind became obsessed with all that we’d no longer have around us: the ocean view from our bedroom ?(#firstworldproblems), our perfect walking loop to take Plax on twice a day, our amazing neighbors that are just a few feet away.
The more I focused on these things, the sadder I became for our impending move because it was beginning to feel like a big loss.
What I started to realize though was that while those things aren’t necessarily trivial, they’re not the real source of my sense of loss. It’s not about the ocean— it’s more about losing the certainty that we’ll have a way to connect to nature every day. It’s not about our walking loop—it’s about losing the sense of comfort in a daily routine with Plax. It’s not about moving farther away from our friends—it’s about not knowing for sure that we’ll make the time to hang out and maintain our sense of community.
Once you recognize that the discomfort isn’t necessarily coming from losing the elements of your life themselves but just the overall loss of certainty, then you can work on solving that.
First, find ways to make the uncertainty of the future more concrete. List out all the positive things you know this change will bring.
With Big Change, there’s always something you’re losing but there’s also always something you’re gaining.
The secret to embracing Big Change and minimizing the discomfort of uncertainty is to shift your attention to what you’re gaining.
For us, that’s embracing the awesome new neighborhood and location our new place is in. I’m looking forward to having an entirely new environment to set up my art studio in and my workspace — those kind of changes often leave me feeling renewed and refreshed.
We can also start replacing those “losses” I listed above with new interpretations. Our daily dose of nature becomes the park just up the road. I can start envisioning our new walking route with Plax, and look forward to the patch of grass we have in our new backyard so he can roll around. I can make a goal to host a dinner with our former neighbors at least once a month.
Bringing these new puzzle pieces together might help you feel energized by the changes before you rather than terrified by them.
Once you start to bring your focus to the future and find things to get excited about, the final step is to release that death grip you have on the past.
It makes us feel more comfortable and in control to think about what’s right in front of us, but clinging tightly to a reality that’s expiring only makes moving forward more painful. It leaves us with one foot in one reality and one foot in a new reality. I’ve seen enough science fiction shows to know that’s a recipe for being torn right in half.
So your challenge this week (whether you’re in the midst of Big Change or any kind of change) is to:
Let go of what WAS in order to embrace what IS.
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If you’re the type of person that has trouble embracing change or relinquishing control, I know these strategies aren’t the easiest thing in the world.
But I also know that life never stands still for long. The more we can learn to embrace the never-ending process of evolution, the more we can continue to live as our brightest selves, whatever curveballs may come our way.
If you’re not in the midst of change right now, I hope this week’s letter encourages you to take a moment of gratitude for the chapter you’re in. What are those things that you’d miss if you were moving away? Try finding a way to enjoy them today as you would if you were moving soon.