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Growing Pains of Change

When my good friend and colleague Dr. Bodden asked me if I would like to contribute to our blog, I spent some time thinking about what I would like to discuss.  I have a lot of thoughts and a lot of opinions!  After thinking over topics for some time, I decided to discuss something close to home.  Dr. Bodden’s most recent blog post referencing embracing opportunities felt like the perfect jumping off point for this current blog post I am sharing.

As you may be aware, I recently relocated to the Cayman Islands from Pennsylvania, USA.  I am no stranger to relocating, as my educational training has led me to live in numerous locations in the states of Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania.  However, this current move is a big one, the first time I have moved far enough to require plane tickets to return to my hometown.  That brings me to the topic I have decided to discuss- change is hard!

When working in the Northeast United States, I had numerous clients who relocated for jobs or schooling who developed symptoms consistent with anxiety and depression.  In the psychology world, we refer to this as “Adjustment-related symptoms.”  Every time I counseled one of these individuals, I remember being sad that they were not warned about the symptoms that can occur.  It is completely normal for an individual to have bouts of sadness, worry, anxiety, tearfulness, or lack of concentration during period of change – even when an individual is excited about their life change.  It doesn’t matter, some negative feelings will result.  In fact, it is relatively normal.  Why?  Because humans do not like change.  There has been much research in the field to determine the cause of this dislike.  Without getting too technical, many of these theories indicate that brain areas associate familiar patterns of behavior with safety, likely left over from the days when humans were cavemen concerned with being eaten by angry bears.  This makes individuals want to remain in certain patterns of behavior even in the event that a change would be healthy (i.e. think about dieting or quitting smoking – this is usually why this is so difficult).

In my therapy sessions, I have begun to warn individuals about the psychological symptoms that can bubble up during change.  Of course, this is not a post stating that one should not change.  Change makes an individual grow.  In my personal life, I believe that nothing has made me grow more as a human being and psychologist than experiencing different cultures and locations throughout my training.  However, it is important to be prepared for the feelings that can occur.

Therefore, at this time while I am undergoing a huge change in my own life, I am trying to practice what I preach in therapy sessions.  I am taking time to take care of myself.  I am not beating myself up if I eat something unhealthy or need to take an afternoon nap.  Because change is hard, and this will not last.  Due to not realizing these feelings may dissipate, numerous clients discussed earlier have left jobs or educational pursuits.  Many have received much relief just hearing they are not alone in experiencing symptoms such as these, and when they attempt change again, the simple knowledge of knowing these symptoms will not last can be a mantra for them to make it through.  As I tell clients, it will take 4-6 weeks to adjust to a life change.  Just realize that whatever symptoms are experienced, they are likely temporary.  If not, therapists like myself are always there to help you through it.  You are not alone!

By: Dr. Colleen Brown

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