How to deal with unexpected change

“When we no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Viktor E. Frankl

We are all in the midst of change responding as quickly as we can to challenges we have never experienced before. Be it changing our personal hygiene habits, practicing social distancing to the ways in which we have to work, connect and communicate with others. Change is becoming a new normal in every way of our personal and professional endeavours. Often change is well managed if it is planned, expected or predictable. But we have a tendency of not responding to unexpected change. We tend to resist change when it is not of our choice. Even though change is one constant in our everyday life, it can make us uncomfortable and cause stress and anxiety to deal with because of the fear of unfamiliarity and uncertainty attached to it.

How we respond to change?

We often react negatively to change because we want to be in control of our choices and actions. So when unexpected changes influence our decisions, we experience a disconnect between our thoughts and actions creating a gap. As a result, our immediate reaction towards an unexpected change is to either avoid or resist to commit to make appropriate adjustments. Or even if we are willing to adopt to it by changing to new habits and new routines while letting go of old habits and patterns of behaviour that may no longer serve, we fail because of our eagerness to make big and unrealistic changes right away.

We always experience changes in our life. Even though some are planned and expected and some may come unplanned and unexpected, we each respond to them differently. And the way we respond to change determines our effectiveness in dealing with it. Some respond to it in an exciting and proactive way while many others find it overwhelming and stressful. There is no particular way we should react or respond or right emotions to feel when it comes to change. But in general, we respond to sudden and unexpected changes in following ways.

Avoidance. The first response to unexpected change is to avoid because you don’t want to face the change and try to avoid any situation that could lead to fear or to deal with any other painful emotions like fear of loss, anger, anxiety or depression. While avoiding change may help you in the short term, but ultimately you can’t avoid change.

Denial. When uncertainty, self-doubt and low self-esteem surface, we focus on what the change is doing to us. This makes us deal with change in denial strategy. People often disassociate from change by saying, “it doesn’t feel that bad.” Or we resist it by avoiding to do what has been suggested or to go along with change. We push against change because we don’t want to accept the new circumstances. This causes us to focus on disempowering things which often keep us stuck in self defeating patterns of thoughts and actions. Ignoring change will not help you move forward.

Fear and anxiety. We are creatures of habit and we like certainty as it brings clarity. Therefore big changes create a state of uncertainty and unfamiliarity causing threat to our perception of safety and trigger negative emotions like fear, stress and anxiety. We feel something must be corrected before we feel comfortable again. Routine and predictability gives us a sense of control. However, we have to learn that change does not always lead to fear and anxiety. It also leads to new opportunities and experiences.

Acceptance and moving forward. Some choose to accept the change after going through initial denial and avoidance. They begin to look at other new possibilities and develop new goals. They try to make shift from anxiety to renewed self confidence.

Being open to change improves resilience

In reality, our perception of change is what influences our response to changed scenarios and experiences. It is always challenging to prepare for ‘what if’ scenarios, but in order to handle what can surface, being aware of the process and open to possibilities can improve our emotional and physical resilience. Unplanned change can be quite difficult because it can affect how we think, work and our personal and professional relationships as well as our physical sense of security. As we experience changes in work, relationships and environment around us, managing these changes can make you overwhelmed by stress, anxiety and depression. If you can’t cope with change, you might struggle to meet the goals you have set for yourself. Instead you can learn to cope with it and manage it effectively by being open and proactive.

Your experience of change can be made better or worse depending on your reaction and your attitude. If you take some time to reflect, you may find that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks as change always helps you grow emotionally and physically.

• It provides an opportunity to think differently about the events and circumstances of your life and strengthens your emotional resolve.

• By reconsidering your choices and decisions, you can reevaluate your priorities and values.

• Changes which are unexpected at times make you focus on new perspectives, possibilities and opportunities.

• It often forces you out of your comfort zone into unfamiliar situations where you progress in new directions.

• It stimulates your curiosity think creatively and optimises your problem solving skills by being innovative.

• The new normal improves your empathy, gratitude and makes you forward-focused.

How to make positive choices amidst change

When change is forced upon us unexpectedly, it can be quite challenging and uncomfortable to deal with unless we have ways to deal with it effectively. It is perfectly normal to feel fear and be unsettled with change as it is a normal human reaction when we don’t feel totally in control and certain about the future. But instead of resisting with unhelpful responses and negative attitudes, you can always choose to understand the difference between what you can control and what you cannot in midst of change. And the key to manage emotions that come along with unexpected change is by making positive choices. Here are some ways to put change in proper perspective.

Accept the ‘New Normal’.

Recognising and accepting change is one of the first step towards managing it whereas denying , ignoring or waiting to deal with later will only make you miss the possibilities and new opportunities. Instead of rejecting or resisting change, acknowledge and accept it as a new normal. While we cannot escape the impact of crisis or stress that such changes bring, we are always free to decide how we respond to it. Accepting our vulnerability to it instead of fixating on the limitations of a specific change can help us decide what to do next moving forward. Saying to yourself, “things are changing and it’s okay.”can make you less resistant and more accepting.

Questions for self-reflection: What’s good about this change? What new opportunities can this change bring? Am I approaching this change with an open attitude? What can I learn from this change? How must I adapt? Get into the habit of adapting to new routines and ways of doing things, review your expectations and strengths. Reflect on what works and what doesn’t, reassess and navigate through change.

Manage stress from the change

Stress and change go-hand-in-hand. But sometimes even when we go through a positive life change, we still feel a great deal of stress. Realise that stress is just a state of transition in overcoming a challenging situation or an obstacle. Amidst new priorities of health and wellness and changed work scenarios, you might experience stress. Establish clear boundaries to ensure working hours and personal tasks. Reassess your priorities and try to think of change as a mixture of uncertainty and opportunity. The more change that is happening, the more important it is to stick to your regular routine. Seek comfort in the things that haven’t changed in your life. Seeking out the familiar can act as an anchor and as an instant stress reliever.

Questions for self-reflection: What is my stress helping me to accomplish? Is it helping me to accomplish my goals in limited conditions of this change? Is it helping me endure period of tough conditions? Which routines can I stick to in midst of change? What I need to start, stop or continue doing to achieve my goals? Are my unrealistic expectations amidst change stressing me out? Reflecting on changed living and working conditions will help you manage stress that may come with change.

Take stock of your emotions

You cannot cope with unwanted changes if you undermine your emotional well-being. If you are experiencing fear, anxiety, disappointment or resentment, rather than suppressing those emotions, Acknowledge your feelings both positive and negative. Call out your emotions so that you are aware of how it might distort your thinking. Don’t be critical of your negative emotions, instead writing down your future plan can help you defuse the emotional anxiety. Take time to self-reflect and explore your emotions or feelings about the change. Create a new vision of yourself and use any valuable resources to help you grow through the change.

Questions for self-reflection: What are my dominant emotions amidst this change? Am I reacting to this change like a victim? Is my emotional reaction justified? Am I overreacting or misinterpreting? Is something I can learn to cope with this change? What realistic expectations can I set to curb my emotional anxiety? Don’t hide or discount your feelings both positive and negative. Prioritise your internal experience to ensure your emotional-well-being as you process change.

Take control of your choices

We control a lot about our lives, but we do not control everything. Learning to differentiate between what you can and can’t is vital amidst change. In the events of unexpected change, we get too fixated on events over which we have no control, or on people who might never change their action or attitude. Also, you may feel a little out of control or like you are not living up your expectations for yourself. Rather than focusing on what you cannot control, try to take control of the choices you can make and let go of what you can’t. Positive self-talk is a great way to sort through your emotions and make honest statements to yourself about the change you are going through. It helps you break negativity and doubt and help you gain control of the choices you can make amidst change. Separate what you know from what you don’t know and let go of guilt about what could have been.

Questions for self-reflection: Are there any specific things that I can control? Am I going through this with hope or negativity/doubt? What positive choices can I make amidst this unexpected change? What inner resources can I rely on? What can I take responsibility for in this situation? What choices can help me sustain this change? Focusing on what you can control empowers you to make positive choices.

Reframe your thoughts

In times of change, we tend to see everything in black or white or assume the worst will occur. While we are pre-programmed with a loss aversion bias, if we focus only on what we could lose from change, we miss to optimise what we can gain from it. Assess your thought patterns and focus on to look at your situation with the intention of finding ways to grow through change. Identifying what your thought patterns are will help you see things clearly and make better decisions about what matters most to you. You can generate more positive thoughts by reminding yourself of ways you have been resilient in your life. While its important to look to the past to find your strengths, you can also get pulled into negative thoughts and scenarios in your head about what the future might hold. Find your priorities in the moment to shift your focus to the present. With a clear sense of your priorities, you can be more resilient when it comes to the stressors of change.

Questions for self-reflection: Reframe your thoughts by reflecting on your past when you handled change really well. What actions did you deal with that really worked for you? How did you deal with the change in communication with others? Which personal attitudes did you use to turn things into positive?

Be proactive

To deal with a change that you didn’t choose, it is better to respond in a proactive way that will help you make most of such a change. Instead of fretting about what may lay ahead, be proactive and take charge of present situation and work preventatively. This means taking steps you need to take to work through the changing scenarios. Being reactive is to wait until something happens and then you take action whereas being proactive is to ask yourself, what actions can I take to make things better? accept the present situation and take appropriate action steps to get things moving in a new direction. When you are in the middle of difficult situation, instead of assuming it won’t work out, become proactive in trusting in your abilities. Acknowledge new possibilities and perspectives in the situation.

Questions for self-reflection: , How can I take advantage of present opportunities? What new opportunities can this change bring in future? What must I let go in order to adapt to changing scenarios? What are my options moving forward? What positive actions can I take right now? It is important to set reasonable expectations and be realistic of your circumstances and take positive action steps instead of denying change or wait to deal with it later.

Focus on bigger perspective

Don’t get caught up in short-term thinking as your initial reaction then will be either to resist or avoid change. Think long-term about the bigger picture and how it can be helpful. May be due to the change, you started practicing healthy habits, may be you become more attentive to your present moment, may be the change helped you prioritise what is most important to you in your life.

Questions for self-reflection: How the change can be beneficial in the future?What is the bigger perspective? What am I disregarding about this change that could otherwise be advantageous in long-term? Change presents us with opportunities to grow and it’s important to acknowledge how things have become better as a result.

Prepare for a way forward

An unexpected change is the one you didn’t plan for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan to create a way forward for the best possible outcome from the situation. Focus on finding solutions to changed scenarios. When you take action steps in the direction of ‘new normal’, your assessment of the situation starts to change. You regain your sense of control to move forward.

Questions for self-reflection: What the next steps are moving forward? What resources will I need to overcome the obstacles of present situation? What support system do I require? What realistic changes do I need to make to produce a positive outcome? If you find yourself overwhelmed, rely on your support system and people who are willing to help. If you find yourself in the lower end of change, instead of beating yourself up, give yourself time to move forward while safe guarding your priorities like health, well-being and maintain your personal productivity.


How do you approach a change that is not if your choice?

How do you respond to unexpected changes, do you avoid or accept?

Are you reactive or proactive to changes in your personal or professional life?

Do you navigate through change or do victim thinking?

How you describe a sudden change to yourself? What you see the negative aspects of an unexpected change?

What impact does it have on your personal and professional experiences?

To conclude,

Often the changes that are hardest to understand and adjust are the ones that are unexpected and that are out of our control. Dealing with a change that you don’t choose to can be difficult to come to terms with, but often such experiences can be turned into more meaningful and positive by being open to the possibilities. Consider above things to put change in proper perspective and make positive choices amidst change. Instead of resisting the change that comes your way, develop the ability to endure change by coming to terms with new normal and by taking control of your choices that can help you live with purpose moving forward.

] “Your desire to change must be greater than your desire to stay the same.”[

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