‘I lost my nerve’ – learning to deal with change!
10 years ago, I fell over on an ice rink and shattered my left elbow. Ouch! The whole thing happened in seconds but had a lasting impact. After surgery, I had to learn to use my left arm again.
Last month I had another operation to sort out the nerve that remained unattached. Now that I’m older, the recovery from this latest operation has been slow, painful and frustrating!
In the years since I fell on the ice, I have experienced a great deal of change in my personal and professional life. Two college mergers and a divorce later, I am wise to the turbulence of change and I now recognise that the feelings are similar; change can lead to a profound sense of loss.
Since the operation I have been recuperating and reflecting on how we deal with the impact of change in our lives, never mind whether change has been thrust upon us, or is of our own making.
I guess the need to make sense of the change is the key factor.
As I see it there are three common stages.
Stage 1. Learning to deal with feeling overwhelmed
It’s ok and natural to feel overwhelmed when we are experiencing change. It’s important to address the feelings of shock, anger and frustration that we feel.
We need to learn to recognise these feelings and not discount them or try and normalise them too quickly.
It’s vital to let our minds and bodies adjust and sway; we will feel disorientated and tired, as our energy is taken with yearning for what has gone before.
When we talk about the change that has occurred, we use phrases like;
‘I feel like I’m losing my mind’…………..
‘I don’t know who I am anymore’…………..
‘I’m scared’ ……………….
‘I want to resign’ ………….
‘I want to run away’ ………….
We can experience panic attacks; and the physical symptoms that are linked with a panic attack can be likened to having a heart attack or a stroke – it’s very scary!
At this stage, we naturally worry and become fixated about our health (and this then becomes our new priority). Meanwhile, the change is still occurring, pressing us into action.
And, all around us, we see people getting along with the change and behaving as if it were not such a big deal …and we think, how can they be so calm and controlled?
Losing our nerve is quite common; wanting to go back to how things were, or just stay fixed to the spot is normal and it takes huge courage to move forward…
But move forward we must, as often it’s the change that give us the power to really discover our true strength.
So how we do that?
Stage 2. Moving towards realignment
At this stage we begin to experiment with the ‘new normal’ and begin to feel more aligned.
We thaw out and come in from the cold.
How do we do this? We do it with the help and support of others. Sometimes we seek them out; sometimes they come to us. They encourage us to attempt things, to see how the new world works, to try out new methods, to be curious and to meet new people.
Moving towards realignment comes down to regaining control of ourselves and our situation. We know this because often those who struggle can see themselves as the victims and they say;
‘I have no control over this change…it’s being ‘done to me’.
A technique I always rely on at times like this is the ‘Circle of Control’ (Fig 1.).
Firstly, I work with people to see how much control they feel they have over their feelings, their work tasks and their relationships. I ask them to list the things that they feel they have personal control over? This takes some prompting, and nurturing, as people at this stage naturally struggle to feel in control.
Next, I ask them to focus on the influence they can have and how they can increase this influence, to gather support around them and increase their impact at this time.
Lastly, I ask them to reflect on the things that they just need to appreciate are going on around them; and I encourage them to let some things go!
In this way, I can help to release them from the burden of wanting and needing to control everything at once!
Stage 3. Turning to face the future
At this stage, slowly and gently, like a child learning to walk, we can tentatively take our first steps towards the future. We have now reached the stage of acceptance. We are ready to face the new world.
What does that new world look like? Well, I guess it’s like when we are driving in the fog and we can only see as far as our headlights will let us see; the new world looks misty. But, despite this, we are still making progress and when the fog lifts, it will become clearer.
We naturally find that because of what we have been though, we feel renewed and stronger. We have turned and faced the change head-on and we begin to feel integrated into the world – like we belong again. Coincidentally, we begin to feel more confident and competent and eager to help others to feel the same. We may even become change champions!
And so, on reflection, I recognise that the temptation is to rush through the change, but like my physiotherapist told me all those years ago, when I couldn’t move my arm, ‘Vanessa, do everything I have said, consciously and consistently, in the right order, and you will regain your movement’. At the time it seemed impossible to imagine! But then slowly, incrementally, consciously, it happened.
To sum up, there are no quick fixes with the human body and soul!