Are You Afraid of Change?

Are you experiencing a big change in your life?  Feeling a loss of balance?  Here’s a hint:

Change challenges our sense of control.  It creates stress because we are creatures of habit, and we lose our sense of control when we have to change our habits.


Your son decides to exercise before breakfast every morning and, upon returning, leaves his shoes at the kitchen door where you trip over them.  Change.


Your boss decides to revamp the work teams, and you find yourself with new responsibilities and new team members.  Change.


The road department decides to rebuild a bridge on your regular commute, and it takes 15 more minutes to get to school or work. Change.


You have the opportunity to move into the house of your dreams in another community, so you have to pack everything up and then unpack, in addition to helping family members accept and participate in the move.  Change.


When Habits Change are We in Charge?

Our habits give us a sense of being in charge, and when we have to change our habits, initially, it feels like we are not in charge.  It triggers the instincts of the old, unthinking brain.  These are reflexes with which we are born.  When something feels unsafe, our instincts tell us to fight, freeze, or flee.  The instincts occur when we feel threatened, and initially, they inhibit our ability to find alternatives.


For example, when someone is driving erratically, we might feel anger, “What’s wrong with him?  We could get hurt.” (fight) We also would slow down and try to get away from the other car.  (flight) It is usually a minute or two before we think, “Gee, I wonder if that driver is ok.  Does he need help?”


When the basic instincts of fight, freeze, or flee are triggered, the ability to think rationally is blocked. As adults, we have learned to stop and think when we start to feel these instinctual feelings, but we have to remember that they are there.


When change arrives, and it always does, we have an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are not in danger, and we find a way to enjoy the change.


Personal Experience

After rural living for 30 years, I moved into a condominium in the city.  It wasn’t downtown, but it felt alien since my walks now always included cars.  I had to teach myself that I could enjoy the walk even though not all cars obeyed the intersection signals.  My self-preservation instincts came in handy, but I had to teach myself not to get mad (fight) at some drivers.  I taught myself to feel compassion for their need to hurry.  I practiced saying to myself, “I hope he arrives safely.  He’s in such a hurry I hope everything is ok,” when I wanted to call him names for being so reckless.


When I remembered to be compassionate, my walk left me inspired and happy, not angry.


I remember the hardest part of the move was learning new routines.  The garbage cans went out on a certain day, and the association had rules about what time the cans could go out, and by what time they had to be put away.  I bristled at the rules – a little bit of instinct raising its head (fight).


I remember being conscious of having to decide how to cook in the new kitchen, how I wanted to arrange my living room, and where I wanted my computer.  I didn’t make decisions for a while (freeze) and waited until I had lived here for a while; I didn’t feel totally comfortable.


I brought a large Norfolk Pine, and I said hello and goodbye to that tree when I left and returned.  I lived alone for the first time in my life, and I longed for a sense of companionship.  My son noticed what I was doing and got me a cat.  My instincts there were to love it – a positive change.


When we move, we change our control over our physical location.  We have new furniture.  We change the patterns of moving through our day: a new closet, new bathroom, new bed location, new dining room, new kitchen – on and on. It feels like a mess.


What is Normal?

It is normal to become frustrated (fight) when we can’t find something, or we don’t know where to put something.


It is normal to want to go back to a favorite restaurant or part of town (flight) to get a sense of being grounded in the familiar.


It is normal to feel a sense of lethargy (freeze) and not want to unpack one more box.


Change creates chaos, and that can trigger instincts.  When this happens, you can relax because you know what to do.


Recognize that you are feeling the emotion of the instinct, and your thinking brain will kick in.  Start looking for ways to negotiate with yourself and your family members. Talk to each other about how it feels and acknowledge that it isn’t always fun.  Find humor in the process of unpacking, the building of new routines, the fact that something can’t be found.


This advice applies if the change is at work and with smaller, personal changes in your life.


Living happily with change requires activating the thinking part of our brain – we are more creative than our instincts.  The opportunities for enjoying change are endless.



For more information about the fight, freeze, or flight response, go to