We are not born with stress – it is largely cognitive, or learned. As a newborn becomes a child and faces the challenges of learning to walk and talk and eat by himself and, later, of going to school with other children, learning how to count and write the alphabet, each new challenge presents a potentially stressful situation until he learns that he (or someone else) has the resources to handle it.
The same is true for adults. Each new stage of life – getting a job, getting married, having a baby, seeing children leave for college, watching parents enter old age, deciding to retire – presents us with change, and change typically causes us to feel stress until we adapt and develop the resources to deal with it.
Healthy Coping with Change
Change is inevitable in each of our lives and usually beyond our control. Whatever the change, it usually results in stress of some sort. How you feel about yourself and how well you adjust to your situation are indicators of your ability to handle change.
With the proper outlook and some helpful strategies, you can better meet the challenges. Researchers studying individuals working in a rapidly changing environment note that there are various characteristics that resilient people possess. These hardy individuals have the ability to cope and survive during times of change.
The stress of change can be managed and brought under control. The hardy individual believes they can shape their environment and adapt to it when necessary. He or she uses a variety of coping strategies to react to situations they find stressful, and he or she can bounce back quickly from stressful situations.
These individuals demonstrate a strong sense of commitment to work, family or volunteer efforts. They believe in themselves and their interests enough to work at them; they are active and productive at work without sacrificing similar activity in the community and at home. This person pursues a variety of interests outside the world of work and has many irons in the fire.
Change is most satisfying when the individual chooses to change and sees change as a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. The Chinese character for change includes two parts: one meaning danger and one standing for opportunity. Each change may present opportunities to grow, develop and move in new directions that were not apparent earlier. Hardy individuals not only survive, but thrive on the challenge that change brings.
Individuals can condition themselves against the stress of change. The psychologically hardy person subscribes to healthy habits and beliefs to help them weather the effects of change. You can enhance your stress hardiness by developing these practices.
When we feel stressed, we are likely to skip meals, binge or eat unhealthily. Yet, this is a time when healthy eating is important to build up those nutritional reserves that will allow you to remain well under stress.
It's easy to blow off exercise, but it may be the one thing that can remain consistent during times of change. The physical and psychological benefits of regular physical activity help you cope with the stress of change by enhancing your mental sharpness and endurance as well as releasing endorphins, the body's natural painkiller and mood relaxer.
We often lose sleep when we are faced with significant change in our lives. Even if you cannot get a full night's sleep, it is important that you at least take rests throughout the day.
Having lasting and satisfying relationships with others who can provide help and support when we need it is critical during times of change. Most of the time, just talking about the change with someone helps, even if you're not looking for solutions to your situation.
The truly successful and healthy person is one who really knows himself or herself at all levels and understands their individual strengths and weaknesses. They know those personality factors that can't be changed and those skills, social and professional, on which to capitalize.
A Healthy Perspective
It's important to accept change and stress as a part of life. Sometimes a sense of humor can help you see the lighter side of a situation to keep things in perspective.
There are many positive aspects to getting on top of change. You develop a sense of control over the change, which helps you to manage other aspects of your life. You achieve a sense of empowerment in making everyday decisions. On balance, most people find that change provides additional stimuli for growth – and the losses can be offset by the opportunities change can bring.