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Our brains and bodies are fascinating – particularly in periods of upheaval or transforming circumstances.

Not all change is negative. It can be incredibly positive, especially in the long term, and where we can see the benefits or have instigated what we see as positive change. Though, of course, even wanted change can bring its own challenges!

The problem is, neither our brain nor our body is equipped to naturally recognise the difference between positive and negative change, which is why change can have such an impact on our physical and mental wellbeing.

Have you ever wondered why you have a negative reaction to change in your personal or professional life?

It comes down to survival – the one thing the body and brain are designed to help us do over anything else.

With that in mind, keep reading to find out more about the impact of change on your brain and body.

🦋What happens to my brain when I’m faced with change?

Our brains are wired to help us survive. Even though the world has changed, our brain responds to threats and danger in a primitive way – this is where ‘fight or flight’ reactions come from. The brain regards threats as being life or death, regardless of the context.  

This is why our brains like certainty so much – predicting the outcome of a situation (whether rightly or wrongly!) is safer than the unknown and requires much less energy. As we go through life, our brain picks up on patterns and events and ingrains our responses because it’s easier – making sudden or unexpected changes difficult to deal with.

Basically:

Certainty = Survival.

According to Forbes, this is why change management is so difficult in corporate organisations. Our brain hates ongoing or organisational change because it cannot predict an outcome and plan accordingly. Furthermore, where we have not chosen or perhaps fully understand the change, it can feel pressurised, sit uncomfortably, and can trigger negative thoughts and resistance.

Regardless of our individual situations, we experience collective change all the time. Improving technology, economic uncertainty, not to mention the effects of a global pandemic…our brains have had a lot to adapt to over the last couple of years.

Uncertainty increases cortisol levels, which sends energy away from the pre-frontal cortex – where we critically think and plan – and towards other parts of the body for self-preservation. This is what can increase our stress levels and make even small decisions feel monumental.

How to better manage this…

If you are struggling with change, you should not think of it as a personal failure. Telling yourself to “suck it up and get on with it” isn’t going to work when your brain is trying to understand your new circumstances. Your outlook won’t change if you cannot process nor see a gain from the experience.

We do have a secret weapon though: neuroplasticity. Keeping things simple, the nerves in our brains do have the ability to adapt to our circumstances. How brilliant is that?!

(If you’re interested, you can learn more about neuroplasticity here.)

Often, the way your brain responds to change depends on your mindset – and the good news is, YOU have the power to transform this!

You can train your brain to respond differently in changing and uncertain times.

Some suggestions to assist include:

  • Break down your next steps of change into small chunks and celebrate every victory along the way.
  • Unclutter your mind by writing down thoughts and actions, and what steps can assist you to move forward. Writing helps to bring some clarity to the busy mind, and can help prioritise as well as shift focus away from what hinders, realigning with what helps.
  • Use a daily and weekly action planner, clearly highlighting what are the ‘must dos’ and what are ‘would be good to achieve’. Prioritise the things that must get done on the days / weeks. By breaking into different levels of priority, you give yourself focus and remove the draining self criticism of not ticking off all on the endless lists … which are usually not helpful as we tend to list everything possible!
  • Learn to view change as a challenge that can be addressed, rather than a threat. By shifting your mindset, your brain will be able to handle change much better in the future.
  • Take screen breaks, go for a walk, go make a coffee … regularly do something to break the cycle of the mind. This is even more important when you feel you are becoming overwhelmed or can only see hurdles and problems, rather than challenges that can be overcome. Remember, there is always a way forward.
  • Challenge yourself physically and psychologically; get out the thought process of ‘I don’t think I can’. Connect with the deeper why, let your mind focus on the end result rather than the challenge to get there. By connecting with the Why, you will stay on track.
  • ‘Walk round’ whatever it is that is taking up head space. Imagine placing the situation on a table and walk round this so you are looking into this with different view point. Can you see things differently, depending on where you look at this from? How about if you try to view from other people’s perspective? What can you see and learn from taking a step back to ‘walk round’ the situation?
  • Create a positive morning and evening routine to bring a more calmer start and end to the day. Whether this be exercise, reading, quiet cup of coffee, set bed times. Consider what will work for you to start and close the day on a healthier, calmer way for the mind.

Even if the change is not one you support, by learning to view from all angles, you gain more facts, build a fuller picture, can assess with greater clarity, make choices regarding approach, and take action based on information rather than emotions and a blocked mindset.

Furthermore, you can train your brain to be more adaptable and to view change and challenges more healthily by regularly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and regular patterns. For example, picking up a new hobby, setting yourself a new goal or challenge or creating a new healthy routine such as morning exercise can assist break the cycle of normality.

By continuing to learn new things, your brain establishes new patterns and new ways of thinking more regularly.  You are brain training! This makes other changes easier to handle too!

🦋What can happen to my body when I’m faced with change?

As your brain’s natural reaction to change is to be on protective guard, the body can react negatively, often responding to it as a stressor, particularly when the change is perceived as unwanted, forced, orworrisome.

There are many physical responses to times of uncertainty, including but not limited to:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced focus
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Sleep issues

You could also experience higher levels of anxiety and irritability, alongside low moods. You can become withdrawn, quieter, or become the opposite.

All of these symptoms are natural reactions to change. Your brain is distributing energy around your body to help you survive. Adrenalin is released when the body considers something of stress or potential threat. This is why in particular your heart rate and blood pressure increase; you are being given the strength to keep going.

How to better manage this …

Becoming attuned to your body’s reactions in times of stress is important, as you will soon learn what your early warning signs are, so you can address the underlying concerns. For instance, poor sleep, sore back due to muscle tension, increase in headaches may be usual separately at varying times, but when they come together, begin to see these as red flags. Your body is giving signals you are struggling and need to change how you manage the situation.

There are various ways you can help address the body’s reaction, including:

  • Talk to a trusted friend or colleague.
  • Make time for exercise as this is proven to assist during times of stress or worries.
  • Reflect on the change from different angles and write down thoughts for each so you can begin to form new action plans.
  • Consider what options you have and what would give the desired outcome.
  • As mentioned above, introduce healthier morning and evening routines to bring quiet to the mind (i.e. avoid social media scrolling and late-night TV; reduce alcohol if applicable; set your morning alarm slightly earlier to avoid the rush when you wake up and have a more leisurely start.
  • Learn breathing techniques and use them at any time during the day. Use a smartwatch to monitor heart rate and breathwork.
  • Seek medical support and monitor health changes.
  • Block off time in your diary to do something that takes you away from the changes; literally remove yourself from the situation to gain perspective and head space.

And please don’t forget, when you do the work to positively change your mindset and keep your brain learning new skills, you will be able to approach change much more calmly, with a clearer mind.

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No matter what kind of change you are experiencing in your life, you don’t have to go through it alone.

If you are ready to positively transform how your body and brain respond to change, Usana Mindset’s bespoke transformational and mindset coaching services could be just what you need.

When we work together, we will find the strategies you need to rewire your mindset, unblock your barriers, and make change something you welcome, rather than fear. To learn more, book your free consultation chat to see if we’re a good fit.

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