Life Disrupted? Managing Change

Reviewed Jun 21, 2016


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This webinar explains the stages of grief, and presents strategies to increase resilience.

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Life Disrupted? Managing Change

Rachel: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to today’s webinar titled Life Disrupted? Managing Change.

We are very fortunate to have Marjorie Nichols as our presenter.

Ms. Nichols is a licensed Clinical Social Worker and has provided behavioral healthcare for over 30 years. She graduated from Eastern Illinois University with an undergraduate major in Psychology and Health Education. She holds a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Illinois and has served as a Field Instructor for the University of Texas at Arlington for social work interns.

In her capacity as an Employee Assistance Program Counselor, Corporate Director of EAP Systems and Director of Provider Networks, she has written and facilitated seminars and workshops for numerous organizations.

So without further delay, Marjorie, I will turn things over to you.

Marjorie Nichols: Thank you Rachel! And thank you all for joining us today. We are going to talk about change and not anyone that is listening to me probably woke up this morning and said today is a good day to change. I think it was -- what was it Ben Franklin that said “The only two certainties in life are what, taxes and death”. I think if he lived a little longer he might have also said change, and life is change, isn’t?

I mean change is a normal, natural and inevitable part of being alive, and we can't prevent it, although some of us really try very hard to prevent it, we just can't avoid it. The issue is not whether or not there will be change because that’s a given; really the issue is -- and that’s what I hope that all of you will walk away with this webinar today. The issue is are you going to remain change or wouldn’t, are you going to continue to feel the harmful effects of change when we react and feel overwhelmed and unprepared and inflexible, or are you going to become more proactive and recognize, anticipate, prepare for and take advantage of the new opportunity brought forth by change?

So let me tell you what I am going to cover with you all today, I'm going to first talk about change. I want to give you a descriptor, a definition of what change is and then I'm going to review the common reactions to change. Now, listen to what fits for you, jot it down, that way you have a couple of goals at the end of this webinar, with that being choosing a couple of those unhealthy reactions that you get into when change occurs for you and instead substitute that by some proactive responding healthy ways of addressing change.

Then we will move into discussing stressful life events and then I want to give you all a picture or a better understanding of the stages that we walk through with grief and with stages of transition because both relate to change. And then I'm going to list tools and techniques, strategies to increase your resilience and successfully manage change.

Well, now let's begin with defining change. Change is any alteration or transformation from one state to another and this process of change transition can wreck havoc on us, certainly it can contribute to some of the unhealthy results of unmanaged change. Stress is when we perceive that we don't have the coping skills or resources to manage what might be happening to us. We also feel threatened.

We hope that this webinar provides you with a different way of viewing change from the potentially harmful to viewing change as a challenge and we might say challenge is when we perceive that our coping resources are adequate. Well, in a discussion about change, it's important in understanding and managing change to really understand that its roots are in loss. This awareness can serve to prepare us for the inevitable. Change happens when something ends and then something new or different starts. Think about it this way, in the spring we see birds and beautiful flowers beginning to break out and the world become more colorful and more full of growth as a result of going through the dead of winter.

And in summer things are growing more and we are able to eat more fresh fruit and produce and things like that.

And then fall things begin to change and die, and then we go into dormancy again.

So think about change as a loss and acknowledge that, but also the potential for growth. I was having lunch with a friend of mine, a psychiatrist that I work very closely with, and Carla was saying to me that she had a really bad weekend. So we began to talk about that and she was sharing with me feelings of self-loathing and sadness and self-doubt.

And she said, you know what I really think this is, I think I am grieving the fact that Joel, her last son, is going to be going to college in 2016. And we began to talk about how difficult it is, even though it’s so exciting when our children go off to college, they are leaving us. There is a sense of loss and of growth.

So let me talk with you all about what happens to so many of us, particularly those of us that are caught in organizational changes. Employees usually will report losses in these ways; loss of self-esteem.

Now, what my clients tell me as I am working with them as an employee assistance counselor is they begin to doubt their competency. They are losing their sense of self-confidence.

And I explain to them that self-esteem is comprised of three variables; self-competency, self-confidence and the ability to be self-compassionate. When we are struck with change or multiple changes we begin to doubt ourselves and our self-esteem begins to lessen. Our relationships may take a strain. Our sense of purpose and meaning begins to wane.

Trust; we might begin to lose a sense of trust. Additionally, feelings of angst, anxiety or depression may appear.

Now, we added this slide because I have found, again, as an EAP professional that it is so helpful to begin to show people a picture of what ails them. It is said to measure is to know. And we thought that if we could show you this extraordinarily effective goal standard of questions on stress, the Holmes Rating Scale, you would begin to see the correlating number of intensity and severity of stress that is felt by these life events.

So, on this slide you see 7, only 7 of the 43 life events that many of us experience in our lives. Each life event in turn is assigned a stress score, again, suggesting the level of intensity and severity of the stress that we might feel.

This gives us a picture or a tool that helps us measure the stress load, the stress load that we carry. And in turn it prompts us to think about what action we should take.

Included in this scale, but it’s not on the slide, are things like job reassignment, change in financial state, death of a close friend, change of work, trouble with your boss, and so on.

Now, consider this, what if you are experiencing some of what’s on the slide or what I have just mentioned, and then along with it you may be suffering from an illness or your job responsibilities have changed, and we call this a stress pileup.

As you can imagine, that’s a great deal of life events that total up, if you will, to a great deal of measurable stress, with a number that confirms the stress that you may be feeling.

And countless times that I have shared this with clients of mine in my office, they will tell me, this is really helpful. It validates for me what I am experiencing, and so I don't have to be so hard on myself.

Remember the definition that I just moments ago shared with you on self-esteem, the third component of a healthy self-esteem is the ability to demonstrate self-compassion, the ability to talk positively to yourself.

Often when we see the correlating numbers to the distress or the change that we are experiencing and we understand the potency of that distress, our self-compassion can come back.

Now, some changes seem easier to deal with than others, like getting married, having a child, moving into a new home, being promoted, completing college, these changes are considered to be positive and desirable by most accounts.

Sometimes it’s easier for us to deal with it because they are chosen by us and so we feel a sense of empowerment and navigational abilities with it.

We generally feel when we have a choice in the matter of change, a little less prone to the negative effects of stress. However, self-induced change can be disruptive in our lives.

Let me tell you about a client that I am working with; let’s call him Gerald, because that’s not his name. So Gerald falls in love with April. April has a child named Samantha. Samantha is 10 years old and Gerald falls in love with both of them. After two-and-a-half years of dating they decide to move in together, and Gerald sells his small, manageable, well-organized and clean home, and April in turn sells hers, so some stress in doing that, and then they buy a home together.

And all of a sudden Gerald is finding that’s it incredibly stressful to live with two women; he has never lived with a woman before, and to live with a child who makes noises and dances and giggles and laughs and has girlfriends over.

Along with all of those changes, which he wanted, Gerald’s work responsibilities changed. He felt additional demands from the workplace. And the stress pileup soared when his very emotionally, psychologically troubled father began to cause problems in his neighborhood and Gerald’s mother began calling Gerald for emotional support.

As human beings almost all of us are creatures of habit, and for Gerald, what was happening for him is all of his habits, his rituals, his daily predictable events changed, and he got caught off-guard. And what began to happen is negativity, lack of self-confidence, and many other behaviors that he found unpleasant and really negatively affected April, and in turn her daughter, began to happen for both of them.

Now, changes, the good ones, as I have mentioned, or even the more difficult ones, like going through divorce or the loss of a loved one correspond with those reactions commonly found among people who are dealing with personal loss and bereavement. It’s widely accepted that the five stages of grief and loss that some people might experience as first described by bereavement expert Elisabeth Kübler-Ross are applicable in dealing with change.

Let me tell you a little bit about another client of mine; let’s call her Melissa, and I am going to walk through these stages of grief as it related to Melissa. She had been given a new store to manage. She brought the sales up. She was meeting all of her marks. But the corporate office moved her back to her old store, with a change in the manager who she did not get along with well, and then her husband got laid off. And she went through all of these stages.

And by the way, we don't necessarily go through these stages all in the order that we have listed here. The first one denial and disbelief for Melissa was, how could this be happening to me, I have done such a good job, I was a star employee, why are they doing this to me, which morphed into anger, anger at this new manager and anger at the corporate offices for not paying attention to the good work and the efforts that she put into her job and then she get into bargaining.

Listen to see if you can relate to any of these, such as maybe if I work even longer hours and continue to improve the sales, they'll give me what it is that I want.

By the time Melissa got in to see me using her EAP, she was depressed. She was crying for most of the session, her sense of self, her self confidence and competencies had waned almost to a point of nonexistence. What we want to have happened for people by empowering them with strategies which I will move into as I discuss resiliency is to get to a level of acceptance. This is what it is, there is something that I can change at this point, but I can change how I view it, I can change my interpretation of it.

So it’s important to acknowledge that having feelings of loss and grief are an important part of the change for most people. Whether the change is in one's personal life or in one’s work life and it’s also important to determine what you have control over and what you have no control over, Steven Kavi in his wonderful books draws three circles and in the center of a very large circle is the smaller one and in that smaller one is a even smaller circle.

In that large circle, it’s the areas of life that we don't have any control over. The second size circle is the area that we can influence, and the smallest really is what we do have control over, which is ourselves, our behaviors, our thoughts and our feelings.

In today’s complex organizations and global economy we see change happening at such a fast pace. Now William Bridges, a widely known expert on helping individuals and organizations deal effectively with change has written several books and articles on the process that we move through as we transition into change.

Now, he defines, ‘Transition is the natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the turning points in the path of growth.’ In other words, transition refers to the actual passage or a movement from one place to another. Transition is the path you need to take following a change that disrupts your life. It is how you move from the past to the future. It takes time and sometimes it's emotionally painful.

Now Bridges has identified three stages in the transition process; ending, the neutral zone and beginning. Ending is the idea that something has to end in order for us to move forward and so often it’s painful. There's an old saying that goes something like this, the only things that I've allowed to change has had call marks on it. Meaning of course, that we have a real difficult time of letting go and that was certainly true for my two clients, Gerald and Melissa. Gerald in some ways still wanted that convenient small house which gave him the sense of control and order. Melissa still wanted the old job back. And they were struggling with this idea of moving through the neutral zone.

Now, the neutral zone is where we feel it's almost as they were in a freefall that there's no net; we can't quite see the new beginning at, it’s a time where we’re frightened than more confused.

The last stage is new beginnings. For every ending there in a new beginning; beginnings are the start of a new phase in our lives. They may feel strange and uncomfortable at first, even though it’s a relief to find some firm ground to stand on again. Eventually, there is clarity and a better understanding of new choices. It is not unusual to feel new energy; self-awareness is a key factor in maintaining progress.

Let me walk you through each one of these and give you a little bit more detail. Listen to what fits for you and where it fits, jot this down so that you can begin to use some strategies of resiliency to help you move through it. It's so important to identify where you are in these stages so that you can begin to predict where you were moving and how to help yourself through it.

Stage one; ending. During this initial stage, people often find themselves asking why me, as I mentioned in Melissa’s case. As I did also with Gerald, he began to think I am not this man that’s, if you will acting out in front of the woman that he loved and her daughter that he was having a great deal of distress because things weren't the way he needed them to be, the containment feel that made him feel sought faith.

So you may have feelings of disbelief during this time, shock, denial, you maybe minimizing your feelings, you may feel sadness, withdrawal, empathy, apathy, betrayal or even anger. It’s likely that you’re getting stuck here, look at these concerns and feelings that you have and perhaps reach out and get some assistance. But note that the next stage might even be a little bit more challenging for you, which is the neutral zone.

After the ending starts to sink in if you will; people enter into this neutral zone which is no man's land if you will. I sort of liken it to a circus performance, imagine two trapeze artist and so one person is on the trapeze swing and he or she needs to let go of that one swing and they begin to make their somersaults with a hope and faith that they have something to grab onto on the other side, but during that time in which they go about initial swing, they can feel quite lost, confused, disoriented, for the trapeze artist, they have to be able to trust in their own ability to manage that tension that they're feeling until they can get to the new beginning.

For Gerald, what I helped him recall was other difficult times that he had had in his life and the tools and techniques he used to reduce the anxiety that he was feeling, his freefall. So he began to jog and cycle every day, he started talking to a couple of his friends who not only validated that it was a difficult change for him, but also that he needed to shape up if you will and begin to change his attitude and his behavior.

With Melissa, I began to challenge her to find ways of liking her new job, find at least two or three things at the new position that she had that she liked, so that she could began to expand on those things that she could be grateful for.

Now after a period of struggle and doubt there is a shift to the more positive optimistic a focus stage of new beginnings that’s where creativity and enthusiasm begins to happen. I want you all to understand that when you are feeling at a loss because you're in that difficult stage of the neutral zone, look forward to this spring and summer of the natural cycle that occurs for all of us with change, the new beginning.

So how do we more successfully manage change? Well, accept that your feelings are a natural result of being in an uncomfortable situation. Sometimes I explain to people you're having a normal feeling as a result to what you feel is an abnormal situation. Talk with people you trust, our inclination is to isolate when we feel out of sorts, don't engage with your community, feel a sense of purpose again and meaning by just connecting with your community, give yourself time to deal with the change. Everyone is different and will move through change at their own pace. The size of the change can determine the amount of time it takes to go through stages.

Keep in mind that this is a process. It’s not an event, and it’s not unusual to go through the stages of grief more than once in this process. Take time to acknowledge and grieve the losses that change brings. Consider that your past experience will change the loss will change, and loss will influence how you respond to the current change as well the other changes that you are encountering. Be flexible, be open-minded. Allow extra time for usual tasks if you are having problem concentrating.

Remember again my definition of some of the difficulties that we go through when stress pileup. Well, sometimes our ability to concentrate and focus or self-doubt around competencies are high. So, be kind to yourself, use that self-compassion and take extra time and find ways of feeling rewarded, feeling satisfied as I had mentioned with Melissa. Find activities and events that are currently going on in your job or in your other areas of your life that you are grateful for and that is positive for you.




By Rachel Pauli, MA, CHES and Karen S. Dickason, LCSW, CEAP ©2015-2017 Beacon Health Options Source: The Social Readjustment Rating Scale, Thomas H. Holmes, Richard H. Rahe Reviewed by Nicole Perlman, PhD

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