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Column: Lions and tigers and change. Oh my!

Column: Lions and tigers and change. Oh my!

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New Year’s Resolutions - Graduations - Starting School - Retirement -The Birth of a Baby - Quitting Smoking - Starting a Diet - Buying a New Home - Starting a New Job

Many view these as welcome changes in their lives as well as changes that are predictable. However, what happens when a change comes that was not planned or wanted? What happens when the whole world is thrown into this change together?

We as humans thrive with structure. We like to regulate our environments and the things we do in our lives. Structure and predictability often equals safety. When we don’t know what is happening next the feeling of security can be lost. We are no longer sure of what will happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year.

With change comes waves of emotions that can be confusing and uncomfortable. Anger, sadness, grief, disappointment, fear, jealousy, anxiety, and even relief or contentment are all feelings associated with unpredicted change. Some people find adapting to change easier than others.

Learning to adapt to change is helpful when living in an unpredictable world. Adapting requires adjusting oneself to different conditions and environments. Trees are good examples of adapting to change. Trees are resilient. They are able to stretch and adapt depending on weather and season changes. When the wind blows the tree bends and the wind flows through the branches, but the tree continues living. Sometimes the wind is too strong and the tree is overturned. However, trees continue living by scattering seeds to different places. Some trees are more resilient, like palm trees near the ocean that need to sustain high winds. Then there are trees like the Bradford pear tree that are susceptible to breaking. When we do not adapt, life can become harder and we can become brittle like the weak branch structure in the Bradford pear tree.

Building resilience and adaptivity requires introspection on what is important to you and your life. In other words: creating meaning. In the world and environments that are changing, creating and defining meaning in your life fosters courage to step out and embrace change and find new opportunities through the unknown. You can find meaning by making a list of things that you value. Ask yourself if you have any self-limiting beliefs that are a hindrance to adaptation. Adapting is not about changing your values. It is about moving forward with those values in order to thrive in a changing world.

When change happens, especially unexpected change, it is helpful to ask the following questions while keeping your values in mind:

● What can I still do now that I could do before?

● What are things I used to be able to do that I can’t do now?

● What are things I can do now that I couldn’t do before?

● What are things I couldn't do before and still can’t do now?

Asking yourself these questions, while holding on to what you value, leads to thinking about change in a more helpful way. Asking these questions in groups and as a nation can help unify common goals and reduce blaming others. When the country is thrust into change at the same time, adapting as a group can be hard. Polarized emotions and “taking sides” is a common reaction to change. We divide ourselves into “camps” — mask wearers versus non-mask wearers, liberals versus conservatives, us versus them. We find someone to blame in order to hold onto the lives and environments where we feel safe.

Instead of placing blame in order to avoid the uncomfortable emotions that change throws your way, think about what you value and what you can and cannot control. Adapting is a choice. Today is the best day to embrace change and walk through life with purpose and understanding.

Marlys R. Kiser is a licensed clinical mental health counselor at The Counseling Group in Hickory.

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