The Psychology of Major Life Changes

The past 10 days have been uncertain and rather stressful for everyone. One thing is for sure: the majority of us have experienced massive changes during this past week. 

Whether current events have impacted your personal or work life directly, or you’ve been watching all of the events unfold, we can all agree that there are some major changes happening around us. 

So how can we deal with change in a healthy way? 

 

THE HUMAN RESPONSE TO CHANGE

Research shows that personality can influence how change impacts our wellbeing. Major life changes can cause stress for people who feel more comfortable in a routine. Alternatively, for those who seek novelty and spontaneity in their lives, change is sometimes more easily welcomed.

It’s fair to say that the changes we’re currently seeing in the world are impacting us all – even the spontaneous amongst us with typically the biggest of smiles on their faces. When major life changes happen outside of our control, it can be a lot harder to swallow. Because of this, I think it’s useful to explain a little bit about what we know about the human response to major life changes and how you can best deal with change. This just might inspire you to look at your situation in a slightly different way.

 

 

1) Even positive change can make us feel uneasy. It’s okay to feel like this!

If you’ve been feeling more anxious, uneasy or up in the air lately – that is totally normal. It’s interesting to note that the brain tends to deal with all types of major change in the same way. Even seemingly positive life changes, such as having a baby or celebrating a new marriage, can prompt the brain to react with unease and discomfort. 

You can take comfort in knowing that it’s nature’s way of protecting you from the unknown.

2) Managing your stress will make it easier for you to build new habits.

When something is new and unfamiliar, our brain can turn on the stress response which often activates our neural habit pathways, meaning we may be more likely to fall into or be stuck in old habits. 

By actively doing things that decrease your stress levels, whether that’s exercising or meditating, you will increase your self-control. This calm and collected self-control over your behaviour is important as you set up new routines such as working or exercising in the home, which involves stamping out some of the old habits of what it means to be in your home environment. 

 

3) Uncertainty bias means that we expect the worse in uncertain situations. Recognising this automatic response can help you navigate change healthily.  

As humans, we are influenced by hundreds of biases that we aren’t even aware of. A bias can be defined as an irrational belief that can unconsciously influence our decision-making process. 

During major life changes that cause uncertainty, such as the current situation, Uncertainty bias is likely to be impacting your thinking. This doesn’t mean that the current changes are great and that you should expect the best from them. However, by recognising that your brain is likely to be in an automatic state of negativity bias, you may be able to better distance yourself from the negative thoughts and think more rationally and positively about your current situation.

 

4) Creating IF-THEN rules can help you deal with uncertainty in change.

In circumstances that are out of our control, it’s important to plan for barriers we will face in order to maintain our projects, habits and healthy routines. These are called implementation intentions. 

Take back some control over your projects, life, wants and needs by planning with implementation intentions, or IF-THEN rules.

For example: ‘If my gym closes, then I will sign up to regular online sessions’ or ‘If my working hours are reduced, then I will work on a craft project I have been meaning to do for 1 hour a day’. 

Making these rules specific will really help you out when preparing for and dealing with change. Having a mental representation of what your IF-THEN plan is will not only reduce your anxiety when things change, but it will also help you feel more in control in the meantime.

 

5) With a long term health condition, strong resilience is something you are likely to have developed already!

Resilience is our ability to mentally or emotionally cope with adversity, to bounce back, adapt or persevere.  

Some studies suggest that resilience can be linked to your genes and inherited as a personality trait but it can also be associated with your environment or life experiences. We now know that you can develop your own resilience skills. 

Living with a long term inflammatory condition may mean that you are no stranger to uncertainty. You are likely to have experienced the cancellations, disappointments and sudden changes in life that most of the population aren’t as equipped to deal with. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the current situation, remember these resilience skills you already have. The coping skills that have helped you through flares, the strength that means you can forgive your body for making you cancel plans and the grit you’ve developed to fight for your diagnosis when others didn’t understand you.

These resilience skills are going to help you through these current times. Perhaps you can even help those around you, who may not have experienced the uncertainty that living with an inflammatory condition can bring – they may need you now. And you can take refuge in thinking that maybe, after all of this, people will be more understanding of what it means to live with an inflammatory condition.

 

6) Major life changes can build momentum for positive change.

It’s time to build the healthy habits you’ve always wanted to embed…

Research has shown that major life events, that completely throw our usual lifestyle or routine out the window, can give us the best opportunity for making real, long-term changes in our behaviour.

Although you may feel overwhelmed, this is a blank canvas to re-jig your health behaviours. So if you have been trying to quit smoking, do more yoga, drink more water or anything else…now may actually be a fantastic time to try! 

How can you successfully change your behaviour? Here are 3 Quick Tips:

  • Make a commitment and tell someone to hold you accountable for this.
  • Swap an old habit with a new one – if your brain can make this link, you are more likely to remember the new behaviour.
  • Reward yourself for small steps you take, rather than waiting to reward yourself once you have completed your overall goal.

 

When lots of things change in your life, with the right mindset, you are actually more open to positive change and more likely to be successful. So with a bit of positivity and motivation for change, you can take a hold of this opportunity in a healthy way.

 

Remember if you are feeling low during current times you can find mental health resources on the Mind Charity website. For up to date information on COVID-19 you can visit the Government webpage.

 

You can also visit our partner’s websites for up to date information on COVD-19 and inflammatory conditions:

Crohn’s & Colitis UK

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society

 

Keep well, safe and happy.

 

Rachel Moran

Behavioural Scientist Ampersand Health

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