There are few certainties in our human existence, aside from the understanding that our experience of life constantly changes. Much has been written about how we manage and think about our journey of change and whilst inevitable, change can be experienced as either exhilarating or debilitating, depending on how we perceive or respond to the event.
Positive and negative change is all ‘life’
Life is a constant ebb and flow of happenings, some which we might perceive as ‘bad’ and some as ‘good’. Changes can be welcome, gradual and beautiful, creeping up on us slowly, like the change of seasons, our children growing from babyhood to adulthood, achieving our goals and moving from life stage to life stage. Sometimes change involves taking new steps, reminding ourselves that there is no ‘best time’ to try something we have never tried, and relishing taking risks. Yet positive change often fills our world with richness, joy, a sense of achievement and increased levels of happiness.
Change can also be sudden, undesirable and unexpected, such as bereavement, serious illness, loss of income and career challenges. What we perceive as negative change often impacts on our sense of wellbeing and psychological safety, though as many psychological studies have found, the events and experiences which call on us to overcome difficulties are often the catalysts for personal growth and the development of resilient behaviours and resources that we didn’t know we had.
Hal Hershfield, Susanne Scheibe and Tamara Sims’ 2013 longitudinal study on the effects of a mix of positive and negative emotions over a ten year period, suggests that not only is it good to experience a mixture of emotions, but it can even be beneficial to our long term health.
So how do we manage the tougher stuff without overwhelm?
Research describes multiple psychological benefits of using positive coping strategies when overcoming adverse life situations. Gratitude, hope, courage, joy and a sense of meaning and purpose, may all help us navigate our life path.
Nevertheless, when we are in the thick of a distressing time, it is not always easy to find ways to change our state, though there are some simple techniques which can help encourage positive coping and helpful thinking. Here are a few of them:
· Mindmap or journal – psychological studies have found that writing about our challenges can help us gain clarity and offer release from stressful thoughts. Gratitude journaling seems to decrease feelings of depression and increase wellbeing, even when continued for a short period of time and mind-mapping is a simple, visual way of seeing a problem, which allows your mind the freedom to find ways to problem solve.
· Take baby steps – break the challenge down into step by step, day by day and manage a little at a time. Seeing difficulties as a series of smaller obstacles rather than a massive mountain to climb, can help us manage better and we can often be surprised at our own tenacity as we begin to overcome difficulties which may have seemed insurmountable.
· Mindfulness – even short bursts of meditation have been shown to decrease anxiety and increase our ability to cope when life. Stop ‘doing’, try sitting still and focussing on your breath and just noticing how that feels, just for a few minutes. Even this simple exercise can calm anxious thoughts and help with clear thinking. If you feel you need some help getting started, try one of the many apps which offer short guided meditations and build the practice into your daily routine.
So how does change give us a choice?
The way both positive and negative changes impact our lives largely depends on how we feel and think about them. One of my favourite quotes by Psychiatrist and Holocaust Survivor, Viktor Frankl, sums up the choice we have for developing resilience when life is challenging:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.
Choosing to embrace change, work with it instead of fighting it and learn as we go, often helps us become better versions of ourselves, bringing opportunities for greater wellbeing and a more fulfilling life.
About the Author: Monique Zahavi
‘We Are The Positive Psychology People’