5 Tips to Help You Deal When Life Suddenly Changes

Doing what you can do when you can't do what you want to do.

Posted Jul 29, 2020

Change is hard enough under “normal” circumstances. When things go along as usual each of us has our own way and time to experience life and to make the adjustments and changes necessary in order for life to unfold the way we wish it to. Since the pandemic arrived things have been very different. In a way, life went on “pause” for everyone; we’re on hold for a while. Some changes will inevitably, still happen. Life transitions continue on in the course of being born, living, and dying.

Since there are things we can’t do and changes we can’t make during this unique and strange time, what do we do while we’re waiting for life to resume sufficiently so that we can get on with the job of living?

A few years ago, I wrote a small manual about how to gain control of who you are and where you are in your life so that you could master the art of dealing with change. It’s called SHIFT: How to Deal When Life Changes. I thought it was provocative at the time since it also addressed the rapidly changing times the new millennium brought and how to deal with all the externals that have inserted themselves into our lives—the internet, social media of all kinds, and the vast amount and rapidity of information we have to process on a daily basis.

But, I could never have guessed that more challenges would come our way and that the human race was in a battle for its life. I just assumed along with many others that there was a solution for everything. That’s not so. The real challenge now is to be responsible and to lay low for a while until some positive dialogue between man and microbe is possible.

So, I thought that addressing how to deal when life changes suddenly and we don’t know what to do or can’t do what we want to do might be helpful. Since everyone is unique and we each have our own point of view and way to cope, these tips are only meant as a general guideline.

Focus on the bigger picture. In other words, keep what is happening in clear perspective. Being able to step back and observe this unique transitional period within the bigger picture of what is your whole life helps to moderate how you think and feel about this specific period in your life. What may seem to be overwhelming and daunting may pale in appearance when placed within the context of all you have been through during your lifetime. Keeping things in perspective may help reduce distraction and mitigate emotional responses, keeping you solidly focused in the “here and now” of your life, not giving yourself over to the drama of this sudden change.

Prioritize what’s most important in the moment. Given the circumstances and the limitations on what you actually can do, ask yourself what requires your immediate attention. Maybe it’s setting up the routine for your “new” daily life. Maybe it’s figuring out how to accommodate everyone’s immediate needs. Maybe it’s focusing on what measures are required to stay healthy. Maybe it’s juggling how to work from home or go to school at home while being mindful of those you’re living with. Maybe it’s temporarily moving to a better situation or place while you’re waiting it out.

This is also a very fruitful time to reassess your life, to think through your decisions and choices up until now. I know that many people are changing their views about how they live and where they live. Perhaps what you thought was “right” for you prior to this period of uncertainty is being challenged and a new direction seems more appropriate and better for your future.

Accept what you can’t do anything about. For starters, the situation we’re all going through is something we currently can’t ignore or deny. It’s a period where we have no control and can do little about. We know what we can do to safeguard our health until a time when more is known and there is a remedy for the problem. Accept what you can’t change now. Some things will just have to wait for a later time to get done.

As we’ve seen, acceptance has proven difficult for some and the consequences of non-acceptance have been cruel. If there was ever a time to delay gratification that time is now. Your health, your life, is most important. Don’t be cavalier about it.

Master the emotions of change. Emotions can and will run the gamut, especially when life is suddenly disrupted. People are bound to feel confused, overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, disappointed, angry, and often depressed because of having to change course, or having to put one’s life on the back burner for a period of time.

In fact, there are specific emotions attached to making any change. These may include a sense of loss (because you’re often giving up one thing for something else when you make change), uncertainty, doubt, and discomfort. In addition, feeling frustrated that your life is temporarily on hold, fear of the unknown, and even panic may accompany the uncertainty of sudden change.

Cultivate behaviors that help you cope with change. Patience will help you arrive at the best possible place you need to be. Often, we try to rush the results and act impulsively. So, yes, we’ve done something but it’s not the right thing and/or does not bring you the desired results. Let things unfold and let go of the outcome, especially when there are external factors that influence the mix.

Stay practical, persistent, and positive. Change may come rapidly but often takes a considerable amount of time to accomplish. There will inevitably be ups and downs while transitioning through change, and more so when dramatic change comes from the outside.

Keep an open mind, be flexible, and entertain various possibilities. While change is a serious matter, there’s every reason to keep a sense of humor. This balance will help you stay resilient and persevere through change.

Sudden change can take the wind out of you, pull the carpet from beneath your feet, and make you feel totally confused and out of sorts. Sudden change can make you doubt yourself and your ability to deal. But sudden dramatic change can also give you the unique opportunity to really see what you’re made of. You may be very surprised and pleased.