How to Cope with Change

Change can produce stress and anxiety in us. This article will give you some tips on how to Manage Change, how to cope with it, and how to survive it! Read on for your short guide on personal change management techniques and information on the STAGES OF CHANGE.

In this article I am going to explore how we react and respond to change and give you some advice that works for managing it – rather than it managing you!

Coping with Change – The Short Version!

There is a massive amount of literature on the topic, some research based, some anecdotal, and some simply telling you how to do it. The amount of information can be overwhelming and not all of it is helpful! One of my favourite books, by the way is Who Moved My Cheese? which is usually cheapest on Amazon. I’ll summarise what most of the others say for you here:

Change is awful when imposed upon us, almost no one likes it.

We are shocked that our world is not staying the same.

We don’t believe it is happening and try to ignore it or resist it.

Then we realise it is happening and get frustrated and cross as it dawns on us that things will change.

Sometimes, depending on the severity of the change, we can get very fed up, even depressed.

Then we start to think about the change and decide to try out a few ideas to make sense of the change.

This phase goes on for ages or not too long, depending on the change.

Some people embrace change and some resist it.

It’s best to find out who they are and delegate/make friends accordingly.

Finally, we absorb/accept/integrate the change into our lives and get on with it.

The Stages of Change

Obviously that is a rather simplistic view but in essence, the stages of change that we go through (and we can go back and forth between them, apart from the first two) are:

Feeling low
Experimenting with changed circumstances
Going back to being fed up if it doesn’t work,
Experimenting again
Making a decision to integrate the change into our lives.

A Change Story

Here is a short story about change. It may ring a bell with you.

One day you arrive at your workplace after a week on holiday. You are feeling bright and chirpy, but as you walk into your open plan office you immediately see that during your absence someone has rearranged the room layout and your desk has been moved!

Your first reaction is probably one of shock as you start to walk to your usual spot only to realise that it has been replaced by a state of the art photocopier. You are speechless at first. What is going on? Someone helpfully explains that they decided on a change around in your absence.

“What?” you say, I don’t believe it” and cast your eyes around for verification from someone else. Other people in the office are nodding at you in confirmation and your disbelief disappears to be replaced by anger. Depending on how important it is to you where you sit you may be more or less angry. You may just be a bit frustrated or you may be fuming. If you have had to cope with a lot of change in your life recently this might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and you may want to explode.

However, everyone is looking at you and so you sit down and check through your desk to ensure that all your belongings are still there. Finding they are, you are ever so slightly mollified but then you look up and realise that your view of the door is now obscured. Worse, someone you find especially irritating is now just a few feet away and is already talking nineteen to the dozen to you as you have inadvertently made eye contact and given them permission to speak!

Your shoulders slump as it dawns on you what sitting in this new place will be like. You did not have any control over this change and you become more and more fed up as you wonder how you can stand it. For an hour or two you sit there doing your work in a desultory fashion with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

But then, as you are idly fiddling with the computer screen, you realise that you can actually change the angle of your desk which gives you a view of the window and takes you out of eye contact with your talkative colleague. You can also put the monitor on the other side of your desk opening up a better view across the office, and, yes, joy of joys, your lovely spider plant will fit perfectly on the window sill!

In a mood of new enthusiasm you make these changes, and by the end of the day you have reasserted a little control over the situation. By the time you go home you have ‘integrated’ the change to such an extent that it doesn’t even rate a mention when your partner asks how your day was! You have just gone through all the stages associated with change…and survived!

Try This

A useful exercise to undertake is to think back over changes you have previously experienced and look at the coping strategies you employed then. For example, supposing you have had a difficult separation from a previous partner. Begin by drawing two parallel lines on a sheet of paper. The top line is for you to record the actual facts of the situation. So, maybe in June you noticed that you were having more arguments or long silences than usual. That is a fact to record on the top line.

Underneath is your feelings or emotions line. What were you actually feeling at the time? Try and be honest, no one but you is going to see this. For example, did it make you sad, angry, vulnerable, or determined to make more effort, or confirm your thoughts that the relationship had run its course?

Although we tend to follow a pattern in reacting to change it is still differently expressed for each of us. What was the next sequence of events and what did you do? Remember to be factual on the top and look at your feelings at the time below. It can be difficult to recall exactly how you felt but try. Use two different colours if you like. Remember to put down all the excellent things you did as well; don’t just focus on the negatives.

Once you have your two lines completed to the best of your ability look again and see if you can spot a strategy emerging. It can be really helpful to look at two changes, one you feel you coped with well and one that was more of a problem for you. Can you see how you have previously reacted to change in those two lines?


Something that usually emerges is that we respond better when we feel we have some control over the change. When you changed schools as a child you probably had to because of age or moving house, but changing jobs may have been a choice you made so adapting was easier. As time goes on we experience more and more change and develop more coping strategies. Sometimes we miss the significance of these and don’t always consciously apply these skills and experience to other times of change. This exercise will help you identify the many skills you have in this area and you will have lots!

Mind Over Matter

One of the most common things said to me by people experiencing change is that they feel helpless; there is nothing that they can do to alter what is happening. Obviously, our responses to change are individual and personal. However, our thoughts, and therefore our feelings, about change are of paramount importance in how we deal with it. We sometimes have a tendency to believe that we cannot do anything about how we feel.
‘It’s just the way I feel’ Or ‘You make me feel so cross’.

Actually, no one makes us feel anything. We feel and react the way we do because of our experiences in life and the uniqueness of us and because of choices we make, even if we choose to do nothing!

Look again at your feelings line from the previous exercise. Were you consciously managing those feelings or were they overwhelming you? If it was period when you were feeling particularly good about yourself it may have been the former. If it was a particularly bad time when your self esteem was low, you may have been comparing yourselves unfavourably with others, retreating into yourself and not attempting to exert any control over what was happening. For example, something I do might cause one person to smile and feel amused, another to frown and feel aggrieved, even if the action from me is the same and they both experience it at the same time.

Similarly with our responses to change; the same event can produce entirely different reactions in different people. One may approach it in a positive way, looking for areas where they can influence what is about to happen, while another may be much more fatalistic, expecting the worst and feeling helpless and buffeted by events.

You Choose

Whatever route we take change will still happen, but we can CHOOSE how we will respond to it. This knowledge that we always have a choice is the single most empowering fact I can share with you!

Suggestions for Further Reading available from Amazon
Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson


Posted on May 25th, 2009 by

Jane's Book

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