In many ways, the human experience is defined by change. Big or small, all change sends out shockwaves through time and space and affects each of us differently. It was Greek philosopher Heraclitus that coined the saying “change is the only constant in life.” Yet, despite the consistency of the change in our lives, it tends to be something many of us fear. As humans we crave what is familiar, we want comfort even if sometimes it is at the cost of our future growth.
One of the things about adulthood that took me by surprise was how often we transition in and out of new phases of life and experiences. From starting university to meeting new friends, losing friends, dating, starting a new job, moving out, the list goes on and on. There is an endless amount of change we have to face again and again throughout adulthood often without the chance to catch our breath in between.
These periods of change in adulthood aren’t as simple as they were when we were children. As kids, change is experienced in the likes of beginning a new school year, graduation, puberty, as well as shared experiences with peers who were going through the same thing as you. But, transition periods in adulthood are so often solo experiences and whilst support systems are vital, at the end of the day it takes you as an individual putting one foot in front of the other, believing in yourself and your abilities and fighting your way through the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety and stress as you learn new things and expand your comfort zone.
So how do you fight through it? How can you put one foot in front of the other when you’re staring down the barrel of yet another adjustment? During these times usually, all many of us want is for the world to slow down. I know my first instinct is to retreat or fall into procrastination or find I need an extreme amount of time to vent and complain. But, while those options may feel good in the moment, they aren’t the healthiest ways to truly deal with your changing world.
But there are some things that have truly helped me during these periods of transition.
When we’re faced with new challenges often our default is to heavily criticise ourselves during the learning process. Instead of acknowledging and valuing ourselves as a beginner, we are quick to judge and condemn ourselves for not knowing everything straight away. We can also sometimes fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others who seem to transition smoother, forgetting that not everything is as always as it appears and every one of us has our struggles and insecurities no matter how we present on the outside. Social media can add to this feeling as people don’t tend to post their failures, but their highlight reels which leads many of us to feel as if we are the only ones experiencing the ups and downs of life.
It is because of all of this that these times call for self-compassion. We need to treat ourselves as we would treat any other person in the same situation. Self-compassion calls for us to be kinder to ourselves, to not be our own worst critics or disregard our emotions, but instead find a way to provide care and comfort to ourselves.
Some ways you can be more compassionate to yourself is through positive self-talk, setting small goals and rewards to look forward to as you continue to adjust to your new environment. It could be as simple as looking forward to starting a new TV show when you get home or having a night out with your friends after you finish classes or work. Being self-compassionate is also about respecting yourself when you do slip up and fail. It can be hard but allowing yourself to make mistakes and choose to see them as moments of growth rather than condemnation will make a world of difference.
2. Use each day as an opportunity to disprove your fears/worries
If you’re nervous about the new tasks and daily routines that you will be undertaking in your new position, course or environment it can be useful to remember that each new day is a learning experience. With the help of being compassionate towards yourself, each time you try something new that you have been nervous about will give you an opportunity to disprove your doubts. It will allow you to show yourself that you can do it and that the newness might have been daunting but in actual fact, the task wasn’t as scary as you originally thought.
I know through my work experience over time and the many different roles I’ve held, that there have been aspects of certain jobs that have made me extremely nervous because they pushed me out of my comfort zone. The tasks were often simple such as making an announcement on a loudspeaker or having to learn a new sales system. But after coaxing myself to do it a few times, I found that my fears around the tasks slowly began to recede. I may not be overjoyed to perform the task but I was no longer afraid of it. Also, it helps to remember that I am being paid to do it, which was usually added motivation.
3. Give Yourself Time
I can be quite the perfectionist and because of that, I tend to expect myself to be the best at everything in a short amount of time. This rarely actually happens, and I find I can feel dejected and disappointed in myself when I don’t feel confident or comfortable in a new environment straight away. But the thing is, this expectation of mine is completely unrealistic. In almost all cases, things take time, adjusting takes time, and learning new things takes time. So, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to give yourself that time.
Treat the first three months of any new job, a new course or a big life change as an adjustment period. Just like exercise, you can’t go to one cardio class and expect yourself to be ready to run a marathon. You don’t plant a garden and expect it to bloom the next day. It is with time and allowing yourself to settle, plant your roots, and get comfortable that you will realise before you know it you are blooming.
4. Seek further help if you need it
Some transitional periods are harder than others and we all handle change in different ways. It is important during these times to keep your support system close, be honest with those you trust about how you feel and honour your emotions by taking any time you need to rest and recharge. While learning new skills and big growth within your life are exciting things, they can also be very uncomfortable as you adjust to your new surroundings, people and perhaps an entirely different lifestyle.
If after you’ve given yourself some time to adjust, you feel as if you are still struggling or that your moods or ability to work are being compromised, it may be time to reach out for some extra help. While this could feel vulnerable and scary, it is important to respect what we are going through and give ourselves the best care possible. That may mean reaching out to a mental health service, a mentor, a friend, HR or even a university advisor. We all deserve to thrive and enjoy our life, so reaching out for help is not a display of weakness but rather one of strength. Their insight and guidance may be the little light you needed to find your way back to yourself.