Change and Stress Management: Why change in our life is so stressful?

Change and Stress Management:  Why change in our life is so stressful?

Is Change cause of your Stress?

There is nothing permanent than change - HeraclitusGenerally, any unwanted change in our life can cause us stress, whether the change is in our daily routine, workplace or job, or in our relationships. Nevertheless, changes continue to happen in and around us.

Everything alive or non-living keeps changing. A few years later, when a person came back to a city, he said, “this city has changed so much. I can barely recognize the buildings around here”.

As it happens, we are not able to notice small changes occurring every day. We do not take cognizance of them. Sometimes, when small adverse changes take a bigger shape, we find ourselves in difficulty.

Life keeps testing us with continual changes. We happily accept favourable changes. We adapt or adjust to the changes that happen at a slow pace. However, at times, we have to face a sudden unwanted change that derails our life. Mostly we are not ready for these changes nor do we have any inkling of them. We fail to anticipate them and changes catch us unprepared.

Everybody has his / her way of dealing with the change that is causing stress. We all handle change in accordance with our understanding, ability, past experiences, beliefs, and attitude. Thus, adverse changes have different impact on different people. Some quickly learn to sail through the storm, others have a difficult time, and some go down with the burden of change.     

When stress caused by change is overwhelming

At times, change can be so traumatizing that you lose your self-confidence. You fall prey to inactivity. There is no desire to make any effort to deal with the change. Honestly, you do not understand what to do. Suffocation and despair fill you. You become very silent or extremely irritable or both. You are unable to get out of this situation. Life seems worthless, nothing worthwhile can happen, “I can’t change things” this frustration envelops you. In fact, YOU CAN.  
"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let thing flow naturally forward in whatever way they like."
- Lao Tzu

Stress caused by change is natural

It is quite natural if change is causing you stress or tension. None of us likes change, especially negative change, whether or not we accept it. You must change your attitude toward change. You can respond to change, react to change or be the victim of change. You can rise above your stress, trauma, tension and pain if you do not let circumstances control you and define your emotions.

If you are going through hell, keep going - Winston Churchill

Resistance to change due to cognitive biases

The human brain is so wired that it likes the familiar environment, places, situations, group, or persons. We like to dwell in a known place, interact with known persons, take the same route to the workplace, use known products, purchase them from the same place, etc. This is called Familiarity bias (Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman), which is our preference for known or familiar and to remain in our comfort zone. Similarly, we also have Status quo bias (Samuelson, & Zeckhauser, 1988), an overwhelming preference for the current state. That is why we tend to resist change. More so, the changes that are adverse in nature or the one that we fail to comprehend whether they are good or bad for us.

According to experts, people have many cognitive biases. These biases affect our decisions and our decision-making ability. Because of these prejudices, we favour our belief system instead of taking sensible decisions. We often do not re-evaluate our beliefs and test them against the current situation / circumstances.

You have the choice of responding or resisting & reacting to change

Our response or reaction to these sudden and major changes ensures our success or failure. Everything depends on your attitude or mental state. You have to choose between a positive attitude and a negative attitude.

Progress is not possible without change. You have to understand these changes and you have to accept, adapt and implement them. It is better to change our lives sooner than to be compelled to bring about change. Fear of failure is your greatest obstacle. You need to deal with fear. Instead of thinking about what will go wrong, bring positive thoughts to your mind and think about what good will happen, what new experiences you will gain, what happiness the achievement will bring, etc.

Change challenges all, big or small, great or ordinary

It is important to note that no one remains untouched by the challenge of these sudden changes. The change challenges greatest persons and biggest organization or company.

How did these great people respond to such a big setback? Did they succumb to the burden of depression? Were they overwhelmed by grief?

After being fired from Apple Inc., Steve Jobs was devastated but he did not give up. He mustered courage to set up two new successful companies - Next and Pixar. Later Apple Company bought Next Company and Steve Jobs again became CEO of Apple Company.

Soichiro Honda also founded a successful company - Honda Motor Company, the motorcycles made by it left American motorcycles companies far behind. Thomas Edison, even after the great loss, said, "Although I am over 67 years old, I'll start all over again tomorrow." He and his lab workers worked day and night to restart the lab within three weeks. Henry Ford, despite failing initially, founded a successful car company - Ford Motor Company, and built affordable cars, making possible their use by the middle class.

Successful people are not people without problems. They are simply people who have learnt to solve their problems.

Delay in responding to change led to failure of many companies

Even big companies have to go through test of changing times. Kodak was at one time the largest photo film company in the world. Kodak invested billions of dollars in technological development to take pictures using mobile phones and other digital devices, and the Kodak engineer actually invented the first digital camera in 1975. However, the company did not use the digital technology because it did not want to end its huge investment made on producing photo films.

Consequently, Kodak lagged behind in the race for digital revolution. Kodak declared itself bankrupt in 2012. The Canon Company adopted digital technology and achieved success in the camera world. Similarly Polaroid, Nokia, Blackberry also did not make changes in time and crashed to bottom from the top of success. Xerox Company had developed modern computer technology (GUI - Graphical User Interface, Computer mouse, PC Networking), yet it could not use this technology successfully. Having watched GUI and computer mouse at Xerox, Steve Jobs used this technology in Apple Computer and found great success. The computers made by Xerox failed miserably. 

All these companies succumbed to Digital Darwinism (an era where the pace of development in technology and society is so fast that businesses naturally have difficulty in adapting to it).

"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but one most responsive to change."
- Charles Darwin

Stages of human response to stress and grief

When conditions are unfavourable in life we get upset, we get sad and disheartened. The more unfavourable the circumstances, the greater is the misery. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross  in her book "On death and dying", written in 1969, said that if we get deeply shocked by something, our response is in 5 steps. Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance

The sooner we move from resistance, anger, denial and depression to acceptance stage, our life comes back on track. Later John fisher and Ralph Lewis-Chris Parker added the stages of Moving Forward, Integration etc., which are the conditions of positive changes in life after the acceptance stage.

"Change can be frightening, and the temptation is often to resist it. But change almost always provides opportunities - to learn new things, to rethink tired processes, and to improve the way we work."
- Klaus Schwab
"Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself."
- Rumi

Change management help book

Dr Spencer Johnson in his book "Who moved my cheese?" very beautifully portrays these mental conditions in a short story. Characters and objects are beautifully used as symbols in this book. Some key points of the story are summarized as follows:

We all fear change.

Ø Change is not end of road, but a process of finding new avenues, new paths.

Ø Staying dormant or not doing anything for fear of change is not a solution. We should look for alternatives.

Ø Only we can decide to change in response to change.

Ø Think what would you do, if you were not afraid.

Ø Be aware of the changes happening around you in the future.

Ø Anticipate change. Enjoy change.

Ø Be ready to change yourself along with the changes happening around you.

Ø Occasionally introduce change in your life so that your strength and will to face change is reinforced.

Ø Fear of working on new options is far scarier than actually working on them.

Ø When you move beyond fear, you feel free.

"I see DOORS where others see walls."