Keep the Change: 6 Tips for Dealing with Change When You Don't Want To


Before I get into the details, let me say that this post is as much for me as it is for anyone else. I've felt especially emotional lately, and I couldn't figure out what exactly was going on, until I found my eyes welling with tears at the coffee shop this morning. Then, it hit me...change. And lots of it. Involving people who have become family. And change that is out of my control. 

It began with my neighbors. The neighbors with whom I have shared a wall of my home for nearly seven years. The neighbors whose same-aged son is the closest thing my son has had to a brother. Those dear neighbors announced that they are moving at the end of the summer. Boom...kick to the gut. My mind was flooded with memories of our children running back and forth to one another's houses, kids playing in the sprinkler and the sandbox on a whim, spontaneous walks around the neighborhood or to get pretzels on snow days, and impromptu gatherings for bbq and drinks. Gone...forever...or so my thoughts told me.

Next, other neighbors who had become family, surrogate aunt and uncle to my son, babysitters in a pinch, and the Emergency Contacts on my son's school forms, informed us that they are moving across the country this summer. I've known that this was a possibility for some time, so it didn't have the same shock factor as the announcement of my next-door neighbors' move, but I had always assumed that when the time came, they wouldn't go. These are the kind of friends who bring you Gatorade and gluten-free crackers when the whole family is too sick with the stomach bug to leave the couch, much less leave the house. These are the kind of friends who you can relax with, be yourself with, cook with, drink with, cry with, etc.

And finally, the beloved coffee shop that had become our second kitchen/dining room on Saturday and Sunday morning announced it was closing its doors in a mere month, and the owners are moving out-of-state. Heartbroken. This was not just a coffee shop. This was the kind of place where they know not just your name, but what you like to drink, and what your kid likes to play with, and what's going on in your life. The kind of people who are open and warm and also happen to make some fine, fine coffee. The kind of people who remind me to slow down, to appreciate the moment, to laugh, and to play. The place where we'd gather with other friends and out-of-towners, the place that embodies all that we love about living in a big little city community. 

Oh, and as a side note, in addition to the above, one of my best friends...the kind of friend you can let see you do the ugly cry...moved away a few months ago. 

So, what do these things have in common? I asked myself this and found a two-part answer: 1. These people are like my family and 2) I have no control of the situations. 

So for #1...We chose to live in the downtown of our small city to have a built-in sense of community, and given that my family lives 250 miles away and don't visit us, cultivating that sense of family was HUGE for our social, emotional, and physical well-being. Having so much community upheaval in such a short period of time shook my foundation. And for #2...feeling as if I have no control over what is going on made me feel helpless and alone.

So, the story doesn't end in the gutter here...I've realized that despite not liking or wanting this change, it doesn't have to bring me down to the depths that I've let it. Here are some of the ways that I've been coping that might be helpful to you if you find yourself saddened by change:

1. Feel the sadness. I often bypass this. Yes, even as a psychologist who knows the importance of feeling your feelings...sometimes it is easier said than done. So I let myself have a big, ol' pity party complete with chocolate and sad music...thank you, Adele. And afterwards I felt a sense of relief. It didn't change the fact that neighbors are moving or that the coffee shop is closing, but it didn't feel as if I was trying to hold a beach ball of emotions under water. 

2. Relinquish control and accept what is. I didn't have the same anti-change meltdown last year when I contemplated moving my entire family and livelihood to Nashville. Why? In part, because I was in control of that. Yes, I would have been leaving the same neighbors and coffee shop, but it would have been on my own terms to pursue my dream and to create an adventure for my family. By acknowledging that I can't control what others do, I let go of that gnawing piece of me that thought I might be able to somehow change the course of events. By accepting that this is the way things are, I see things in a more neutral way. Life coach Christine Hassler says that there are seasons for friendships in our lives, and that sometimes when the season ends, it is making room for growth that I cannot yet see.

3. Act. I can't control others...we've beaten that horse to death, I think, but what I can do is act. I can make an effort to keep regular play dates with our next-door neighbors who moved across town. I can spend as much time as possible with our neighbors before their cross-country trek. I can tell them how much they mean to me. I can make plans to see them after they move. Because sunny weather in the winter next year will be welcomed!

4. Be grateful. I am so grateful for the time I've had with all of those special people. I'm so grateful that they've shaped who I am, my son's experiences, and how I view the world. I'm grateful for the friendships that I still have. And I'm grateful for the growth that I cannot yet see in current and future friendships and opportunities.

5. Self-care. I know that I beat this drum loudly and often, but it's just so darned important. Sleep, which my body has been telling me that I need a lot of lately, is vital. My nutrition hasn't been so hot lately, and I know that making time to buy and prepare healthy foods makes me feel better and makes it easier to see a situation clearly. I also haven't shared much of my feelings...until getting support from others is important and deeply validating. All of my work has exploded over the past two weeks, and my stress management has lapsed...and yes, those 6 minutes of meditating in the morning really do make a difference.

6. Play and live. Life goes on. And I want to be an active participant, not just a side-line observer. So, I'm diving back in with a coach to help my business grow, with a new community of peers at a local wellness center, with plans to spend time with friends, and with weekend trips to our favorite places. 

Change is part of life. It is really the only constant. I hope these strategies help you cope with the inevitability that is change.

Has change affected you? What strategies did you use to cope? I'd love to hear about it in the comments!