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Dr. Hal's Thoughts on Change

Posted April 24th, 2012 @ 09:04am by: Dr. Hal Pickett

Change is inevitable, but we were built for it. At a biologically driven, microcosmic level , you are now several seconds older than when you started reading this blog entry. You have in some unnoticed way changed from when you opened this blog. So the bumper sticker CHANGE HAPPENS is true.

Our society has also imposed some things that change whether we want them to or not. We move from staying at home or attending preschool to entering kindergarten at the age of 5 or so. It is the law and sometimes it is very stressful. We cannot drive a car alone until we are 16. That is a huge change that can drastically alter our availability to our world and the experiences that it can offer. At the age of 18 we become adults legally, the police look at us differently, many of us graduate from high school. When we earn too much money in our careers, our tax bracket changes; when we have kids everything changes.

We are in control of some changes. We change our minds, we change our clothes. Some people change their mind "as often as they change their underwear." The more control we have in our life correlates generally to being able to make more of our own changes. That may be the core of why change is stressful. Most change involves moving from a place of known comfort to unknown new territory. Often the present position, even if it is dysfunctional, is more comfortable. That is why we see so many people stuck in unhealthy, dysfunctional or unhappy situations -- because it is comfortable and feels easier than tackling the unknown.

So how do we get more comfortable with change? Teaching our children this skill can start early. We need to teach them tolerable disappointment, skills to deal with frustration and help them build self-efficacy or sense of mastery in their world. Change is stressful -- we need to recognize that and acknowledge our anxiety about it. As adults, we can inoculate ourselves by doing the things we know. Get good sleep, eat well and exercise. These daily tasks help maintain a healthier homoeostasis - or stable, calm response to stressors -- within our internal environments. When change is outside our awareness or surprises us, the important factors are to do those healthy homeostasis things more diligently, lean on our trusted friends for support, cut back on our harmless vices like drinking that extra glass of wine or too much coffee. Alcohol and caffeine can stress out the body even more.

The old adage that "What does not kill us makes us stronger," is somewhat true in regards to change and stress. Brain data supports the concept that when we experience predictable stress in such things as change, our brain learns to better adapt to stress and change. It is frequent and unpredictable stressors that tend to train our brains in a negative emotional way.

Since you started reading you are several minutes older and your body has changed, the day is now several minutes gone, and approximately 16 babies were born in the United States. Relax and enjoy these changes, because you will inevitably confront changes in your life that will be stressful, so don't sweat the small stuff.

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