We know that change is a constant in life, but most of us find it difficult and frustrating. Since it’s always around us, shouldn’t we be better at handling change? Is there something wrong with us?
Well, you can start by blaming your brain. Human brains are most comfortable when everything around them is consistent and certain. It goes back to our long-ago ancestors, who faced real dangers on a daily basis. They had to stay alert to all sorts of deadly threats, from wild animals, to other people, to weather they didn’t understand. They rarely had time to relax. So over the centuries, human brains became accustomed to staying alert for threats and responding immediately, because that’s what kept our ancestors alive to see another day.
You may never have to protect your children from a vicious tiger or a mob from another village, but your brain still reacts to unexpected challenges in the same way. When the brain sees a challenge, it instantly assumes it’s a threat and prepares your body so you can fight or flee.
When there are no “threats” around, our brains can relax. That’s why we tend to like predictable routines. When we need to go grocery shopping, the car starts right up, we take the normal route to the store, we buy what we need, and head home after a quick trip through the checkout. But how do we feel when the car doesn’t start, or an accident causes traffic to crawl, or the store is out of what we needed, or only one checkout line is open? We get tense, right? And that’s because what’s familiar and comfortable changed, and our brain registers it as a threat. So our heartbeat speeds up and our temper emerges. Instead of considering alternatives, we become angry that the normal is no longer available.
Suppose we instead responded to those unexpected situations as constructive challenges instead of threats. Instead of getting angry, we shift our thoughts to other ways to accomplish what we need to do. That also creates an automatic response in our brains, but it’s a more constructive response that sharpens our creativity and helps us discover solutions.
It takes practice, but you can change how your brain perceives change in positive ways, and that perception can shape your emotions, your mental health, and even your physical well-being. Each time you react to change in a positive way, you retrain your brain. Over time, you’ll find yourself getting less tense and more resilient. You’ll be better able to adapt to whatever surprises life has in store for you.
Does this idea sound too good to be true? It’s not, and one of our counselors can help you find practical ways to adjust your mindset. Why not set a time to talk with us and learn how you can become skilled at finding joy instead of fear in change?
Michael Spencer is one of Care to Change’s professional counselors. He has combined ministry with counseling for families, couples, and individuals of all ages for over 20 years.