When Change Brings Anxiety

Joella Ranaivoson

September 10, 2023

Very few things in life are guaranteed, but change is one of them. We can count on change meeting us. Sometimes it’s unexpected, sometimes it’s wonderful, other times it’s brutal. Always, it leads us into the next version of ourselves, of our lives. Change is inevitable.

God is working in the change

The very nature of life is that it flows, it moves, it changes. It doesn’t stay the same. Nor should we want it to, if we really think about it. If nothing is changing, it means we’ve stopped growing, we’ve grown stagnant. God’s word talks about change saying,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…"(Eccl 3:1-2).

God isn’t surprised by the changes you’re meeting. That’s not meant to be cruel, but to be a reassurance. The Divine Loving Creator who made YOU knows you and the thresholds of change you are being invited (or forced) to step over.

We move from childhood to adolescence, adolescence to adulthood. We may choose a partner, we may not. We may have kids or not. It can go from me to us to us and the kids. Our kids grow up. They leave us. They leave home. Or we are the kids that leave home. We go from our parents’ home to our own homes. We get jobs or change jobs. We live in one city then another. We move countries. We face a global pandemic. People we love leave us. We leave them. People die. We change. Our identities shift.
God and change are the only constants. If there is no change, life has stopped moving. Through every change God is present.

Change involves loss

It’s important to acknowledge that change means loss because to move into the next thing, you are losing some of what or where or who you have been. Change means things are being shaken up--whether that’s in your job or work, your relationships, your location, your inner world--change means things will not continue as they have. And that can be sad.

And when things change, we experience loss. Loss of how things used to be: loss of relationships, loss of a job, loss of familiarity, loss of a particular identity. You may notice that you feel grief swelling up in you, and you might be tempted to quash it down because someone else’s loss seems greater, but that’s short-circuiting your own grieving process. Loss is loss, even if it feels ‘small’. And loss requires recognition of what’s been lost. The grief that loss brings asks to be felt.

You are normal

Feeling anxiety at the unknown is normal, human reaction. Change means there’s unknown up ahead or perhaps you’re in the thick of it right now. If you are feeling anxiety because change is setting its foot upon your doorstep - welcome. You are at a profound threshold. There can be beauty in it. Even in the midst of the stress. Anxiety is quite normal. We get comfortable in our routines, in knowing what to expect, what’s to come, who we are. It is perfectly normal to feel anxiety at change.

Trust is a process

But change comes upon us when it’s time to step into another layer, another level of being, of trust. Change means there’s a lot of unknown up ahead. We can plan and try to control the future but life continues to show us abundantly that we do not have control. We can resist this fact and fight it and exhaust ourselves in the process; or we can flow with the changes life brings, allow God to carry us, knowing things are working together for your good, even if it seems exactly the opposite.

How to cope with anxiety caused by change:

Release control

When we feel anxiety about change in our lives, we’re either ruminating on the past or worrying about the future--either way, we’re not in the present, which is the only place our body can really be. The anxiety comes from not knowing what’s coming; from feeling out of control. Instead of fighting that feeling of ‘no control’, we can learn to accept it, even befriend it. Ultimately, we aren’t in control; control is an illusion anyway. Our loving God controls the world, we don’t. Change in our lives reminds us of this grounding fact.

Tune into God

Connecting with God through prayer and meditation helps you get centered back in the present and in what’s true about the situation and where you are right now--which brings your mind away from the looping narratives about the unknown and heretofore intimidating future.

You cannot control the future. You cannot control another person’s behavior, you cannot control your circumstance beyond a certain point, and you cannot control what comes or doesn’t. The only thing you have control or power over is yourself. So you can manage your thoughts, remind yourself of what’s true--who God says you are, and stay as present as possible as you live each moment, facing the unknown. Recall God’s words that you are beloved and cherished, made in the very image of God.

Release the tension

We can cope with anxiety caused by change in our lives by tuning into our body. Get centered, settled. If you are someone who sits, find a comfortable place to sit with your spine straight but not stiff, if you’re comfortable closing your eyes, do so. Now, just begin to notice your breath: as you breathe in, notice; as you breathe out, notice. Feel where your body touches the ground or the chair. Notice where in your body there is tension. Are your shoulders up near your ears? Is your jaw clenched? Is your stomach tight? Are your leg muscles clenched? Drop your shoulders, unclench your jaw, relax your stomach, release your legs. Let ease settle into your body. 

As you take breaths in, visualize in your mind any part of your body that’s holding tension, and ‘breathe into’ this space--hold it in your mind, and breathe deeply, and allow that part of your body to relax. Sit and breathe like this for a few minutes. When your thoughts wander, notice and gently bring it back to your breath. That’s all. Try it for 3 minutes. Maybe 5. If you’re comfy, go for 10 or 20 minutes. 

When you’re ready, open your eyes, and take in your environment. Name and touch 5 things around you. Name aloud 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can taste. Get grounded in the present where God meets us. You. Are. Here. Now.

If don’t do well with sitting, take yourself out on a walk, no phone, and notice as you walk. Notice the trees, notice your feet hitting the ground, feel what parts of your body move as you walk- let it be a moving meditation.

Let yourself grieve

When we are faced with change, it’s important for us to step into and begin practicing accepting the unknown. This looks different for each person. Some people need to cry and weep and sorrow. Others need to rage. Others create--dance, writing, cooking, painting--to let that pent up energy out. Others need to make lists and contingency plans. Grounding ourselves in the reality that we are here now and all we can do is meet the change helps us begin to accept it. After acceptance, who knows, you might even find yourself befriending the unknown. Change can be your friend. It does not have to be your enemy. Change is inevitable. And learning to meet it with equanimity will serve you.

Change grows us

The unknown that change brings is full of potential, full of possibility. It does not have to be a negative thing. When we can learn to meet change as a friend in our life, we can walk with it, and all the lessons it can bring us to grow us. If you can trust that God meets you in the change, walks with you as you navigate the future and leave your past behind, perhaps that can be a balm, a help as you move forward.

Change coming into your life is moving you into a new phase. God goes with you. It’s okay and normal to feel anxious. But don’t let fear keep you from stepping forward. Feel and acknowledge the fear you feel, and move forward anyway.

The LORD goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Don’t be discouraged, friend. You can trust our God who holds you, trust that God will equip you for what’s up ahead. You won’t ever be left alone.

About the author — Joella Ranaivoson

Joella is an artist using words in writing, songs, and acting to convey truths about being human. Storytelling is the joy. Everything feeds everything, so take it all in and let it feed your creativity.

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