16 Ways to Cope When Life Changes Suddenly

Coronavirus has changed the world. Within just a few months, thousands of people have been infected all over the globe, there has been loss of jobs, loss of lives, and hundreds of thousands perhaps millions working from home. It’s a very uncertain time, a time where everything has suddenly changed and with change comes a lot of negative emotions like stress, anxiety, helplessness, and fear. So, the question is then, how do you deal with sudden change to make it through this time of turmoil?

Why our brains resist change

Our brains are powerful tools, tools that can become weapons, and in the instance of change, that’s exactly what they become.

According to Dr. Srini Pillay, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, when there’s change, “the conflict sensors in the brain become activated and this causes brain chaos that we call cognitive dissonance. This activation of the conflict sensor becomes stressful to people.”

Put simply, Cognitive Dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling that you get where you try to maintain two inconsistent beliefs at the same time or when you believe in one thing but act in a contradictory way. For example, in the case of the Coronavirus, many of us know things have changed drastically but our brains are struggling to really believe it. This discrepancy and conflict of feelings within us can be very unnerving.

How do you deal with sudden change?

Although it’s important to know that a negative reaction to change is normal, it’s even more vital to accept that this is just an initial reaction as the brain processes what’s been thrown at it.

It can be very easy to stay within this spiral, especially if you have the personality type that prefers the status quo over seeking novelty, but this is very detrimental to our mental health.

To help your brain adjust to the sudden changes caused by the Coronavirus and to help maintain your mental health in the weeks and months ahead, here are 16 strategies to try.

1. Don’t fight it, try to accept it 

Suffering is what occurs when we resist what is already happening, so naturally, the best way to deal with it is to stop fighting and start accepting.

Obviously, this is easier said than done, since initial resistance to change is an evolutionary response within us as our brain shifts into protective mode. Like everything, however, with some training, our brains can learn to accept change and adapt to a different routine. 

Rather than wishing things were different, try flowing with this change of circumstance instead. Focus on:

  • Being present in each moment.
  • The things you can control (your to-do list, self-care, the work for the future).

2. Remind yourself that even good change can cause stress

A promotion, going to university, buying a house, having a baby...even major life changes that are positive can cause a considerable amount of stress. So why, if these same conflict sensors are activated, can we deal with ‘positive’ change better?

Most people and I say most people because it depends on your personality type, can cope with sudden changes if they’re considered positive purely because of their mindset. When we have the right perspective, we can channel our stress into being proactive which eventually helps us get through this anxious and uncertain time. 

When it’s a negative change, however, our brain defaults to a negative bias for safety. Essentially this means that when there is uncertainty, our brain automatically expects the worst as it doesn’t like the odds of equations with unknown variables. Studies have shown this, “wherein people who are uncertain, 75% of people mispredict when bad things are going to happen. “

So how do you deal with sudden change if it’s negative?

  • Recognise that your brain will go into an automatic negativity bias.
  • Redirect uncertainty by repeating neutral self-talk phrases out loud - e.g. “Uncertainty simply means I don’t know the future. It does not mean the future is bad” or  “Feeling uncertain doesn’t mean the future is negative; it just means I don’t know what it holds at this moment” - this is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy technique. 
  • Reframe your perspective - focus on positive details as much as possible and try to find an opportunity or lesson in the situation. 

3. Make a plan 

How do you deal with sudden change that brings so much uncertainty and anxiety with it? You take control of what you can.

There are so many worries and causes of stress during this time, so instead of hiding under the covers and seeing what happens (which considerably adds to the feeling of unease and helplessness), think about what you can control to ease it.

Start by making a plan and setting yourself goal intentions. I say “intentions” because you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself during an already stressful time. Setting some goals, however, will help you feel in control of your life again. So what do you intend to do? Do you want to focus on self-care or your business development during this time? Whatever it is, be specific and add an actual time to it. E.g. I will meditate 10 minutes every morning or I will focus on business development for 20 minutes every Tuesday and Friday. 

4. Keep up your regular schedule as much as possible

The more change that is happening, the more important it is to stick to your regular schedule. Again, this comes down to you taking control of what you can. The more control that you have, the less uncertain you will feel and the more able you will be to accept the changes that are happening around you.

Having some things that stay the same, like getting up at 8 am and checking the news with a cup of tea or settling down before bed to read a chapter of your book, give us an anchor. These routines and habits remind us that some things stay the same and that’s calming for the brain. Not only that, but studies have also shown that when we concentrate on tasks at hand, this gives our unconscious mind a chance to keep processing, resulting in us reaching better decisions than when we are actively thinking about it. 

If you’re very stressed and anxious, try writing down your routine so that you can tick it off as you go each day. It’s one less thing for your brain to think about.

5. Exercise often

I realise that this is a tough one, especially since many of us are confined to our houses, but we all know that exercise is good for us. It boosts our mood, it helps us sleep better, it keeps us healthy, and it significantly reduces symptoms of depression

Exercise should be added into our daily routine so that it gets done, so find what works for you. If you’re used to regular exercise then three or four moves, three or four days a week for 15-20 minutes per session is enough to stay strong. You may have gym equipment at home or you can use household items. You may prefer to clean your home or to just put on some music and dance around the living room. Whatever it is, it’s important to get moving to get those endorphins flowing. 

6. Try to eat as healthily as possible

According to Consultant Nutritionist Dr. Rupali Datta, "People eat a lot of food to comfort themselves and divert their attention from the current situation. They turn to mostly sugary and high-fat foods to feel relieved.” 

I’m sure we’ve all been there. We feel sad or fed up, we turn to bad and unhealthy food, but then we feel bad or even worse. That’s because sugary and high-fat foods make us feel sluggish and can actually increase symptoms of depression.

When we’re struggling, it can be really hard to plan, cook, and eat healthily but this is absolutely essential during this time. Like everything else, put it into your plan, add it to your schedule and make sure you’re eating foods that will boost your immune system and affect your mood positively. The Association of British Dietitians recommends essential fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, Omega 3 oils), complex carbohydrates (oats, grains, brown rice), lean protein (meat, fish, eggs, lentils, beans), and whole grains, fruits and veg for essential vitamins and minerals.

7. Practice self-care

Too many of us don’t take care of our health. We get caught up in the busyness of life, we prioritise work, and we juggle until we’ve burned out. Sound familiar? It’s a sad reality, especially since our mental health is the foundation for everything that we do from our mood and wellbeing to our focus and productivity. With having to be constantly there for your clients at the moment, it’s easy to find yourself working very long hours with little in the way of a break. 

In a time of such anxiety and uncertainty, our self-care needs to be a priority. You may not ‘believe in it’ or you may not think it will make a difference, but try it. What have you got to lose?

Dr. Steve Orma, a CBT clinical psychologist who specializes in treating insomnia, anxiety, and stress, says that “to manage anxiety, you need to consistently check in with yourself about what you’re worrying about, then address it. Just as we create routines with exercise for our physical bodies, we should do the same for our mental health.” 

As well as eating healthy and sleeping enough, here are a few exercises that you can add to your routine every day

  • Daily journaling 
  • Meditating for 10 minutes every morning
  • Any form of exercise (e.g. yoga)

8. Seek support

No one gets through life alone, and in a time where we are confined to our homes and encouraged to social distance when we do venture outside, social support has never been so important.

Numerous studies have shown that social support is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health. So what does this mean? It means that we should be talking, we should be seeking comfort in our family and friends, and we should be asking for help if we need it. Chances are, your friends and family need this too, so call them or skype them and laugh or cry together. Ask them if they are really okay. Download apps where you can play games together. Spend quality time with your family at home playing games and talking about life, when else do we get the time to really focus on this?

We realised our members were needing someone to be there for them during the Coronavirus crisis. That’s why we implemented daily ‘positivity’ group calls, monthly virtual member days, alongside our more normal fortnightly accountability calls. 

9. Get proactive

While keeping busy to avoid dealing with your feelings is very detrimental to your health, being proactive is a stress-reliever. 

If you have your routine ticking along and you want to feel empowered, think about what you can take charge of now to help you be in a better position later. This can be personal tasks or tasks for work. For example, is there anything that you can do which will have a positive impact on you now but will also make a difference later? Perhaps focusing on growing your social presence online? This is satisfying your social needs now but it is also essential for networking and winning new clients when everything is back up and running later. In fact, many of our members are finding by being proactive on social media they are winning clients right now.

10. Turn venting into action

Everyone is in a very similar position at the moment so talking about it is inevitable. While this is great for support and not feeling alone, it can get detrimental if the people who you are talking to are solely venting. This negativity and panic can be contagious. 

Positive social support of high quality can enhance resilience to stress, so if you’re talking to family or friends and their negativity is affecting you, try gearing the conversation towards action. Brainstorm together and talk about what you can do to make yourselves feel better? Hopefulness can be contagious too. 

11. Delegate or outsource if you need to

Sometimes the weight of everything we need to do can be too much, especially during a time like this, but we can only spin so many plates.

If you have a team that you’re managing, delegate tasks or projects to them; they are there to help you. If you have certain tasks that you want to do but they are taking too much time, outsource them. I know this is a time of financial hardship for many, but if you can outsource the low-value tasks to give you more time to focus on the big picture stuff, then that’s a win in my eyes.

12. Build-in brain breaks

When we are trying to cope with these feelings of uncertainty and unease, our focus is going to be affected. We are not going to be as productive as we are used to, so instead of trying to firefight through your days, accept this and build-in brain breaks to your plan.

It is recommended that every 25-30 minutes, you should complete a brain break activity for 1-3 minutes. This is to stimulate your brain in a different way which research indicates improves concentration and efficiency while relieving stress. The most effective brain breaks incorporate some level of physical movement to stimulate neurological pathways and help both hemispheres of the brain work together (e.g. doodling, a pressure point massage, stretching etc).

As explained by Dr Pillay, when you’re focused, you are collecting different pieces of a puzzle with your mind, but unfocused time is the time you give to your mind to get these puzzle pieces together.

13. Focus on gratitude

A simple but effective way of putting your situation into perspective is to focus on gratitude. What are you most thankful for? What is going really well in your life right now? What do you appreciate? Start off each day with writing down three things that you are grateful for, they can be anything at all from your health and your family to that essential cup of coffee in the morning. 

Focusing on the positives is a very healthy mindset to try and nurture. Has this sudden change made you and your family closer? Has it made you start practising healthier habits? Has it made you become more assertive, grateful, or courageous? Are you getting a buzz from being really close and helpful with your clients right now? Maybe it has helped you prioritise what is most important in your life. It is very easy to focus on the negatives, but change always presents us with the opportunity to grow so it’s important to acknowledge how things have gotten better as a result of it. 

14. Deal with any grief and loss

This may seem like a weird tip to give but bear with me. When addressing the question “how do you deal with sudden change?” you have to address grief and loss. Why? Because we don’t just experience these feelings when losing a loved one. 

Grief and loss can often be found at the heart of major life changes, just look at our current situation with the Coronavirus. Lots of people have lost loved ones but many have also lost jobs; many people’s businesses may go under, many have gone under, many can’t physically see their relatives, many people are stuck in a foreign country, many have to cancel their weddings, and the list could go on. Maybe your accountancy practice was growing rapidly until the Coronavirus hit? Trying to navigate this major time of change can feel like a loss in many ways so the only way to come out the other end stronger for it is to progress through the grief process and let these feelings go.

15. Take a step back from social media and the news

There’s power in knowledge, it allows us to properly take care of ourselves, but sometimes the more we know, the more we don’t want to. Social media and the news can fuel the feelings of panic and helplessness, so take a step back from it during this time.

Social media, especially, evokes negative feelings. During stressful times like this, it can be very easy to browse through the “highlight reels” of everyone’s lives and feel like you’re the only one who’s struggling. If you find that you’re comparing yourself to others, step away from it. With both social media and the news, try to schedule in a certain amount of time each day to look at it and that’s it.

16. Give yourself a break

How do you deal with sudden change? Give yourself a break! 

In a time of such major change, feeling a little out of control or scared or depressed is normal. You shouldn’t push yourself too much or set your expectations too high as you won’t be functioning at 100% right now, so give yourself a break when you need it.

If you’re finding it hard, don’t be hard on yourself. Focus on the good, the positives and laugh as much as you can. Laughing increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins which all serve to make you feel good.

We can’t control change but we can cope with it

We can rarely if ever, control major life changes like the Coronavirus, but we can control how we cope with it. Starting with accepting how we are feeling about the situation and understanding that our brains are working against us to protect us from this change initially, we can then implement these 16 strategies into our daily lives to work through it. 

With a lot of structure, routine, healthy habits, self-care, and support, we can make it through sudden changes in life with our mental health intact and come out the other end much better prepared for the opportunities that the future holds. 

What helps you? How do you deal with sudden change?

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