Moving? Changing jobs? How to make big changes less overwhelming

Everything is changing, all the time. The weather changes - in Brussels often very quickly in only one day -, our moods change, we are gaining or losing weight, we try a new hobby, an illness destroys all vacation plans, there is a new colleague at work, we are growing older, a baby arrives in the family and changes every single aspect of life, we are being made redundant or get a new job, a relationship ends or begins or we are moving to another apartment, city or even country.

Change is part of human life. Sometimes the changes are small and not directly visible; sometimes a huge shift in our life lies ahead of us and controls our thoughts and emotions.

Many years ago, I moved to Brussels with my husband and a little baby of six weeks. Everything was new: the apartment, living in a city (we came from the Luxembourgish Ardennes), the neighbours, the language(s), my husband's job, and of course all our family life.

I kept myself busy with exploring the area and the museums with a pushchair as best as I could, although I had to face a lot of challenges as I discovered that public buildings and transport were not extremely well equipped for a baby. I went for walks every day and tried to get to know the shops, the pharmacies, and all the new doctors we had to go to.

It took me half a year to find my place in this completely new environment, half a year of feeling overwhelmed, often lonely and yet very stressed by everything going on after this huge change in every aspect of my life.

When I started practicing mindfulness, I developed a deep understanding that change is inevitable. We have to accept this.

Change is inevitable; there is nothing to argue with that. All you can do is to handle it and keep on living your life. It is how you perceive change that can make it interesting, liberating or - on the contrary - terrifying.

How can you become more resilient so that unexpected or seemingly uncontrollable change does not take you off track?

The most important step is to accept that change is part of your life. No matter how much you try to control people or events to stay the way you know - and therefore rest in your comfort zone - all will be over, new, gone, or different sooner or later. Accepting this fact can help a lot in letting go of the resistance you often feel when being confronted with something new or unexpected. Things may not turn out the way you had planned or hoped for, but accepting this will help a lot in keeping your head clear of too many worrying thoughts and give you some mental space for dealing with the situation at hand.

Here are some tools to deal gracefully with big changes in your daily life

  • Make the intention to stay positive. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that arise, take good care of yourself and your needs, and believe in your ability to cope - you have been through difficult times before.
  • Journaling may help you to stay in line with the bigger picture and your core values. You can put your thoughts and worries into words (without overthinking, just spontaneous writing) and bring some order to the perceived chaos and the unknown.
  • Be aware that change can trigger certain patterns of thoughts: "I could have done better." "What will happen next?" Remember that you are not your thoughts, even if they feel very real. You can ask yourself: Is this thought really true? Or is it just a mental pattern, arising out of habit or my need to protect me against uncertainty?
  • Be organised and open-minded at the same time. You can try to be prepared and to consciously plan ahead, for example when moving to another country with the whole family. Thorough planning may not free you from having to face a lot of stress and uncertainties, but it can help to feel more secure and resilient and to approach sudden stressors with a clear and focused mind.
  • Come back to your body time and again and feel the sensations in the body, feel your breath or your feet on the ground. Try to find an anchor (breath, sensations in the hands, sounds, etc.) that can help you to feel grounded when you need something to lean on.
  • Apply self-compassion when you are feeling overwhelmed or insecure. Changes such as losing a job or breaking up a relationship can be frightening and very sad. You can acknowledge the fact that this is hard for you right now and that you can allow all feelings to arise. You can place a hand on your heart, to comfort yourself.

Change is part of everyday life. The one thing that stays stable and solid, however, is your awareness that can create a space and observe everything that is going on: outer experiences and your emotions, thoughts and sensations in your body.

My family is again approaching a big change. With now two children, an enormous number of toys and a huge amount of experiences and memories we will change countries once more. We have already started planning, organising and preparing the kids step by step, as for them it will be the biggest change of their life so far.

But this time, it feels quite different for me. In the past years I have learned to be more mindful. Being mindful of my thoughts, my emotions and my bodily sensations allows me to see everything as passing events, a coming and going of joyful anticipation, worry, stress and too much planning.

I am much calmer now and try to take every step and every day as it comes, trusting that my family and I will be able to deal with whatever comes up. It still is a stressful experience, but by focusing on the positive, being grateful for what I have and not following every worrying story that my mind is trying to sell me, helps me to keep the bigger picture in mind.