Managing unwanted change: Strategies from a psychologist

The closure of the Colmont School has triggered many emotions for the school community. Psychologist Emma-Rose Parsons suggests strategies to deal with the upheaval.

Sometimes change is positive, if it takes us from a negative place. But when the change puts us in a position of disempowerment and takes away our perception of safety, it can be really tricky to navigate.

Change is something many people find yuck; particularly unwanted, unpleasant change. It can shift our focus to the negative aspects of the change, halt our ability to see any solutions and exhaust us with the emotional overwhelm.

So what can we do when we experience unwanted change? Here are my 10 suggestions:

1. Be prepared for a mix of emotions. Anger, frustration, blame, hopelessness and fear, are common reactions to unwanted change and these feelings are usually uncomfortable and difficult to manage.

2. Label your feelings. Naming our emotions is a simple and effective way to help us unravel what we are experiencing.  Saying out loud is even more powerful. If possible, put it in a sentence like this:  ‘I’m really worried that my child isn’t going to be able to complete their subject.’ ‘I am frustrated with the powerlessness of the situation.’  ‘I am angry that this has happened.’

3. Remember all feelings are valid. There isn’t a ‘right and wrong’ to feelings. Yet sometimes it is okay to draw a line in the sand, and decide when a feeling isn’t helping you anymore. When we stay really angry for example, it can hinder our clear thinking. It can be helpful to make a decision about when that feeling is no longer helpful, and consciously let it go and move forward with a plan instead.

4. Feelings are temporary. They come and go, a bit like visitors. Some hang around a bit longer, but eventually they will leave.  Know that you won’t be feeling these same emotions indefinitely. This feeling will go and a new one will take its place.

5. Remember that feelings are not facts. Just because something feels terrible, doesn’t necessarily mean it is. Thoughts are powerful, for sure.  But they are still not facts.  Facts may include things such as: The school is closed.  We need an alternative school. We need to ensure our child is educated. There are other schools available. Other schools are new.  Other schools are changing.  Thoughts may include: We will never cope!  It’s too much change!  I can’t do this!  Differentiating these can assist us in clarifying what is actually happening vs how we may be experiencing what is happening. A subtle, but helpful differentiation.

6. Engage your problem-solving skills! Consider your options – there are always options! What CAN you do? Sometimes finding three to five possible solutions can help us to identify ways out of the situation and shift our focus to moving forward. Engaging our logic, planning and rational thought, all of which assist us in moving forward, empowers us to see possibilities, rather than reflecting on stressors.

7. It’s okay to feel tired. Families experiencing unwanted change, such as those managing first-hand the Colmont School closure, may well be exhausted. This is because intense feelings take a lot of energy. So go gently. Take the pressure off where you can to manage your energy. This is a time for simplifying what we can and trying to let go of some of the high expectations we set for ourselves.

8. Accept that change is an inevitable part of life. One thing that is certain in life is change. We must sometimes lean into this, and move with, rather than fight against it. Accepting change as a normal part of life can take some of the ‘sting’ out of the event and assist us to move forward.

9. Keep up the ‘boring basics’. Sleep well, eat well, take breaks from technology, exercise, drink water, connect with calm loved ones. The ‘boring basics’ are incredibly powerful, and without them, it can be really tough to problem solve and move forward to find solutions.

10. Seek help. If you are finding yourself getting stuck in ‘distress’ mode, unable to move forward, please ask for help. Reach out to your GP, a psychologist or counsellor, or call one our many hotlines, such as Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, Parentline on 13 22 89 or Life Line on 13 11 14. Because there is help out there, and asking for help is brave and worth it.

About Emma-Rose Parsons

Emma-Rose Parsons is a psychologist, speaker and board approved supervisor who opened Spectrum House in 2008. She works in both private clinical practice and in schools assisting children, youth and their parents/guardians. Emma-Rose is passionate about increasing a family’s quality of life, by offering Education, Understanding and Skills for Life.

Stay in touch with Emma-Rose on Facebook, on LinkedIn, on Instagram and through her website.

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