Coping with Change and Uncertainty

Skills for Coping with Change and Uncertainty —

Today more than ever and coping with change and uncertainty is vital. Navigating change is a skill set we need to help us and everyone in our circle of influence.

Life is a series of changes.  So, learning to understand and manage its effects will help us avoid common problems and be more effective.  It will help us safeguard our health and wellness.  Scientific research suggests that most people follow similar patterns dealing with change. We experience the same hurdles.  Our personality and instincts dictate how we respond.

Living through a stressful and long-term crisis can make it feel like living in a disaster movie.  You won’t be able to make the best decisions when your primitive emotions are triggered.

Why Navigating Change is Hard

We Think We Are Ready

Our first assumption is that we ‘think’ we are ready.  We even say we want to see change.  Then, during the process of change, the emotional side kicks in.  We weren’t expecting the overwhelming emotions that changes can generate.  A significant change will bring up multiple emotions; anger and fear are the most common.

Fear about how the change will affect us is one of the most common. It brings up self-doubt about your ability to learn the new way.  Then there’s anger, betrayal, incompetence, loneliness, to name a few others.

A significant change will bring up a host of different memories, both the good and the bad.  Strong emotions can overwhelm even the best planners and derail the toughest and the smartest.  We can be so focused on the goal that we forget about all emotional aspects. Understanding and coping with change and uncertainty is more than an intellectual exercise.

We forget that we accepted this part of the mission because we didn’t expect it to be overpowering. However, that’s a distant memory. And it’s too late to turn back or stop now.  Most times, we aren’t in control of the changes taking place. Nor can we control the pace of the changes.

We Fail to Recognize the Effects of Change

We don’t recognize the adverse emotional and physical effects of change because of two reasons.  First,  they happen slowly.  Second, “see” the connection between the change and its impact.

Like the frog in a pot of water, we don’t recognize the gradual increase in temperature.  So, we don’t react until it’s too late.  The harmful effects of change often come on gradually.  Similar to our first assumption, that we are ready, we also think it’s not a problem.

After being exposed to stress for long periods, we can start to have physical symptoms.  For example, we start feeling fatigued, having headaches, or other mental distress.  But, we don’t connect the dots back to the change taking place.  Right now, all cultures around the world are feeling the stress of the pandemic. It’s a significant change for society to deal with, and it affects everyone to some degree.

Skills for Coping with Change and Uncertainty

Most people realize on an intellectual level that everything is constantly changing. And they recognize change itself is unsettling and uncomfortable, so we try to forget about it.  We get used to it and take it for granted until effects sneak up on us or when we encounter a drastic change.

We ignore change because we are focusing on the goal. We are eager for something better.  So, we make a change. We take a new job opportunity or perhaps a new hobby or relationship. Sometimes significant changes happen.

The most challenging changes result from unforeseen circumstances, like an accident.  Losing a job or a loved one is a significant change. That’s when we realize we are feeling the effects of change.

Navigating Change

With this in mind, there are a few basic principles to keep in mind as we venture into the realm of change.  It doesn’t matter whether the alteration regards work or personal situations.  Understanding and coping with change and uncertainty requires us to look inward.

To understand change, we must go beyond the process, policy, or practice. It’s not just about a change in doing things or relationships. It also includes the emotions, dreams, and memories attaching themselves to the change. Most people don’t know precisely how these things connect.

Successfully navigating change requires us to look inward.  This personal level isn’t something that we discuss at work. Most managers are not ready to handle the personal and emotional aspects of change.  Even if they are able, they are afraid to devel into this area because of legal complications.

Managers don’t want to get into the personal life of their subordinates. Even discussing personal issues opens the corporation to several legal exposures they would rather avoid.  Second, most managers don’t have the expertise to handle these kinds of problems.  They would instead refer them to trained psychologists.  So, managers need to spot the warning signs of change. This way can direct employees to the best resources for help.

Some progressive employers are using the Enneagram of Personality profile as a resource. The Enneagram can help them understand their default personality and instincts and how change may manifest through them.  Navigating change is a multifaceted endeavor.  You cannot manage change without understanding its effects on the individual.

Physical Pain & Emotional Distress

Yes, making changes can be painful. Psychosomatic pain is your body’s way of responding to stress. This response can occur when you encounter new ideas conflicting with your current thinking or doing things. One way this pain manifests is cognitive dissonance.

This internal conflict brings everything to the surface.  Business and personal issues get tangled emotionally.  The result is that you “think” you are dealing with either a purely work or emotional problem.  But, in reality, you can’t separate them.  You are one “whole” person.  As much as you’d like to keep work only at work or personal only at home, you can’t.  So, whatever emotional issues come, it doesn’t matter the catalyst.

Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term for the pain one feels when reconciling opposing ideas. This psychological stress can happen when we confront contradictory views, beliefs, opinions, or values. The best way to deal with this is to identify the specific conflict areas.  Develop a plan of action to address or at least the conflict. Don’t ignore the mental symptoms which trigger negative emotions.  Otherwise, it will manifest in other ways.  The discomfort is telling you there is something you need to address.

Stress is a byproduct of changes.  Stress causes many other types of physical distress.  It can make people sensitive to things that didn’t matter before, such as the smell of perfume or someone’s messy desk.  Stress also leads to insomnia and fatigue, which leads to more conflicts and mental mistakes.  It is a downward spiral that is sometimes difficult to stop. So, people file mental stress claims to get a break from anxiety during a significant change.

Any disruption to your paradigm’s status quo forces you to make mental adjustments. Your paradigm is your worldview made up of all your beliefs about spiritual reality. When you mess with this filter, you can easily upset your emotional equilibrium, which results in cognitive dissonance. It’s telling us that balancing mutually conflicting ideas causes emotional distress.

Focus on the Reasons Behind the Change

To handle change, you need to understand the reasons behind the change. But understanding isn’t enough.  You must be able to accept the reasons.  If you know the reasons but reject them, you will not move beyond the effects.  Learning how to cope with the reasons for change is vital for handling the impact of change.

Sometimes the “why” is hard to accept.  Sometimes the connection between the reasons for the change and how you feel about it isn’t immediately apparent.  A common ineffective strategy is “denial.” We might say, yes, sure, I accept the reason for the change, but deep down, we do not.

Again, most workplaces do not want to devel into this level of “personal experience.” But also, successfully navigating change means finding out why we react to it with resistance.  Living the alteration doesn’t mean agreeing that it’s the right thing.  It just means we accept that this is taking place, and we understand the reasons.

The Enneagram Personality Profile can help us understand how our personality works. It’s an essential tool in understanding how change affects our thinking.  The physical changes are only a part of the story.  We must deal with how change affects the individual.

For example, they implement a new work process, which changes the way we do our job.  We understand the changes but continually find you are making mistakes.  It may have nothing to do with the work.  Your paradigm is fighting to hold on to the old ways because you are comfortable with them.  Unless you address the issues within yourself, it will take you a much longer time to adjust. It’s a common situation as companies institute new practices to protect people during the pandemic.

The stress in our lives manifests in work performance issues.  Thus, the cycle downward continues. You make more errors in judgment.  Your manager does not understand why you’re having so much trouble.  Now your job is in jeopardy. This typical example is why understanding your paradigm is so important. If you grasp the change affects your internal values and thinking, you will be better at handling change.

Get Comfortable with Unknowns

Once you understand the reasons behind the why and accept the reasons given, you can move forward.  Once you do this, it will be easier to see the internal and external effects.  Learning to accept these changes isn’t as simple as snapping your fingers.

You learn to be comfortable with the unknown.  It would help if you made the conscious decision to venture into unfamiliar territory, leaving behind beliefs and values which may be anchors for your paradigm.  And, this is also a handy strategy for life. It’s the modern version of the Buddhist idea of non-attachment. Don’t let things become anchors you can’t cut and leave behind.

Partner with the Positive

To feel confident and thrive in the change, you need the correct information, skills, and support. Find other people who, despite the unknowns, are consistently positive.  Yes, everyone gets frustrated and down sometimes.  However, you want to seek people who can help you through the obstacles.

Anxiety, self-doubt, and depression are often a part of our natural response to change. Your support system is vital in dealing with this aspect. Don’t go it alone.  Remember, 95% of our responses result from our previously held assumptions and views.  Hopefully, you see the information you have will help you deal with the change by this point. Understanding change is both intellectual and emotional.  Positive emotional support goes a long way.

Coping with Change and Uncertainty Takes Time

Everyone processes the effects of change at a different rate.  The emotional effects of change can temporarily reduce our ability to process information by up to 80%. So, it’s essential to take your time when confronting ideas conflicting with your current paradigm. Be gentle with yourself.  Be gentle with others too.  The change may be small, but it’s huge for you if you have many emotions attached. Ask questions.  Ask yourself, “why am I feeling this?”

Our reading ability can drop to a 4th-grade level during times of change. Again, be gentle and patient with yourself. Take time out from the hard inner work and enjoy life. Spend time outdoors in nature. Even a few minutes in the environment can help return your emotional equilibrium. Learn to meditate. Spend time on your creative hobbies.  Learn basic seated and walking mindfulness meditation techniques and use them.  Learn how beneficial it is to be in nature (Forest Bathing).

As you can see, the transformative process is challenging, but the rewards are worth it. It draws us to the spiritual because it is our nature to explore.  If you find yourself slipping into physical or emotional distress, take a timeout.  Talk with people so they understand you are having issues with the effects of the change. It has nothing to do with physical change, the people, the processes, or the organization.


Understanding change involves both external issues and internal effects.  We find the best outcomes when we start with a positive mindset. Three things cultivate a healthy state of mind:

1) You have good coping skills to handle stress.

2) are in good health.

3) you are functioning in the healthy range of your personality.

Most of the time, changes happen when we aren’t ready.  We “assume” we are ready. So reviewing how change affects us will help you overcome the hurdles. It’s also helpful to partner with people with an overall positive outlook on life.  If the situation allows for it, take some time to process.  It will help you regain emotional equilibrium.

The things we need to cope with change are:

1) Understand the physical change and the reasons for it.

2) We are aware of how the change may affect our paradigm.

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(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia

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