When life change comes, are you frozen by fear? Does the offer of a promotion at work means sleepless nights, or a date with someone new leave you riddled with anxiety?

Why are we so afraid of change?

Is it really change you fear?

Often it’s not the change that is making us worry. It’s all the things surrounding the change.

What we are really fear is:

  • uncertainty of what will happen
  • leaving our comfort zone
  • letting go of people and places we like
  • being inadequate
  • looking stupid if we mess things up
  • feeling out of control
  • working hard.
We can also deep down fear that things will go really well. If our comfort zone is struggling or being a victim, the idea of being successful and, well, happy? It might terrify us.

Risk taking and your brain

‘Prospect theory’ suggests that, left to decide, we’ll choose a small outcome that is guaranteed over a bigger but riskier outcome. Our brains practise loss aversion.

Around since the 1970s, the theory was recently confirmed by a large scale global study. The study had people face financial choices such as, “if you had 1,000 to play a game, and could either accept a 50 per cent risk of doubling it, or a guarantee of gaining an extra 500, which would you choose?’. Most people chose the latter.

Of course when it comes to life change, we often assume what the risks are because we overthink or have anxiety. We trick ourselves into fear by our own negative assumptions, instead fo finding out more factual information.

In with the new, out with the old?

It’s a great expression, but not actually the way many of us actually think. It seems us humans vastly prefer the old and reliable.

An interesting study discussed various things with two different groups, like a piece of art, a tree, the practise of acupuncture. One group was told things were much older than they actually were, like that a tree was 4,500 years old instead of 500 years.

Even though it was the same tree, they were the group that valued it far more, and the same held true for the other items.

How can I stop being afraid of change?

There are many things we can do to move forward even when we are scared.

1. Do some digging.

Remember that our brains are averse to risk. Do some digging to learn what the difference is between perceived risk and actual risk.

  • What are your beliefs and thoughts about the change?
  • Which of this list do you have actual facts to support?
  • What ones have you actually assumed were true but simply don’t know?
  • Who could you contact to get more factual information?

2. Separate feelings from events.

Fear is an emotion, not a fact. So while we tell ourselves, “I can’t, I’m too afraid”, most of the time we can. It’s just that we have to do what writer Susan Jeffers named her bestselling book after. “Feel the fear and do it anyway”.

3. Get a handle on your thinking.

What drives our fear is our thoughts. Our negative assumptions and black and white thinking. Take the time to slow down and listen to your thoughts. Write them down.

You can try this process to encourage balanced thinking. Write a thought out, now write out its opposite. What might a more balanced thought in the middle be?

For example, the new job will go terribly, the new job will go perfectly. The balanced thought could be that probably, there will be challenges, but the new job will likely work out fine.

4. Focus on what will stay the same.

When we focus on what will change, our brain feels threatened.

But with all life changes, many things actually do remain the same. We will still be ourselves, for starters. We might still be in the same city, have the same friends, still go to the same gym.

A study looked at how employees reacted to a company restructuring, that included big changes like moving offices. It found that it was the managers who focused employees' attentions on what would stay the same, instead of what improvements were being made, who saw employees be the most accepting of the restructure.

5. Seek support.

Really can’t handle a change ahead? Or is it a change that was so unexpected you feel legless?

Sometimes life throws difficult curve balls. We lose someone we love, or a job or relationships that we had unknowingly formed our identity around. We need help to recognise the resources we have to get through the change. And sometimes we just need someone outside the situation who won’t judge us for needing to vent, like a therapist.

Ready to seek a therapist who can help you navigate change with flying colours? Use our easy booking tool now.

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