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Adjusting to Change: Tips for Graduates and Everyone Else

Originally Published on 05/19/2021

Thomas Robertson, LCSW

Originally Appeared in the North Shore News

This time of year is full of excitement and celebration in our community as our children and students achieve the important milestone of completing their high school education. The graduation ceremony is called commencement for a reason– it is the beginning of a new phase in life. For our graduates, this could mean getting ready for upcoming opportunities at college or the chance to enter the workforce. This might even mean leaving home for the first time, a reality that is scary for young adults and parents alike. Changes like these can be hard for everyone involved.

The truth is, during our life we are constantly going through change; it is inevitable. Most of the time change represents opportunities for new growth and can be refreshing and reinvigorating. However, even good changes can be anxiety-inducing as we grapple with future unknowns. For this reason, we may find that we resist change, and might even self-sabotage good changes in life.

How do we adjust to change? The Hawaiian word “Imua” means to move forward or to advance. I would like to suggest three strengths-based approaches to moving forward in our always-changing life. These approaches may work best if we have already accepted the change.

  • Develop your problem-solving skills. We all have an innate ability to problem-solve. We can see this in action when we observe babies as they struggle with learning how to adapt to their environment. By further developing our problem-solving skills we get better at the process of adjusting as things come our way. Developing these skills is a lifelong process.

  • Think “big picture.” On the other hand, sometimes we need to pull back and put things into perspective. What strengths do we have that can help fit changes into the big picture? This requires us to willingly reframe our thinking to make changes work.

  • Be flexible. As a child, I was always curious about what made coconut trees so strong even though they are so bendy. Later I learned that it is their flexibility that makes them strong. Like a coconut tree in a heavy storm, abrupt changes can send us “to the breaking point.” This is exactly why finding creative ways to be flexible in life can keep us from going beyond the breaking point.

There are times in life, like losing a loved one, where we may understandably struggle to adjust. This can contribute to the very natural phenomena of grief. Other times we may have an unusually difficult time adjusting to other types of changes (for example, a career change). This may lead to something called an adjustment disorder.

If you are having trouble adjusting to important life changes, both the good and the not-so-good, you may benefit from talking with a medical or behavioral health professional to see what steps you can take to adjust and improve your quality of life. Help is out there waiting for you!

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