Life Disrupted? Managing Change

Posted Feb 20, 2018


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This webinar presents strategies to successfully manage life changes.

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Rachel Pauli: Welcome to today’s webinar. Life Disrupted? Managing Change. My name is Rachel Pauli, and I’ll be the host for today’s webinar. Please remember to get a copy of the Powerpoint as well as the tip sheet under the event sources section. If you have any questions, you can submit those through the “ask a question box.” There is no dial-in number but you can simply listen to the audio through your computer speakers so be sure to turn your volume up.

Our presenter today is Kris Hooks. Kris is a licensed professional counselor, a marriage and family therapist, a certified-employee assistance professional and a certified wellness coach. Kris has provided and managed employees in the behavioral health field for over 30 years. She has written and facilitated seminars and webinars for hundreds of organization and many Fortune 500 companies. Without further delay, Kris, we’ll turn things over to you.

Kris: Rachel, thank you so much. It is my privilege to get to be with you today. I certainly, over the course of my career have helped a lot of people deal with changes, some may plan for and some may never thought would come their way and that is how life can be. I want you to think about your own life as we go through the material. I want you to think about what is creating stress for you. What changes are really challenging. Think both of your personal life and of your work life. I mean, we need to kind of frame it up.

Change is really normal, it’s natural, it’s inevitable, it’s unavoidable, in this life, it’s going to happen. There are a lot in our world that is dramatically different today. Think just in terms of technology, depending on your age and how far back you go, some of us can go way back. Others can remember before we had computers or cell phones but yeah, there’s a lot that’s going in our world that’s very, very different. Being able to successfully navigate to manage change, it is an ongoing process in life. And again, I want this to be the best use of your time. I want you to be making it real and thinking about “What can I take from this training that’s going to help me immediately?”

I’ll never forget, I think it was somewhere in the ’80s when I started grad school and Dr. Stag, one of my very first professors in Counseling 101, grabbed on to the podium, first class, first day and he tells the entire—there were probably 200 of us “Change is painful.” Yeah, we are going to describe change beyond just Dr. Stag’s definition of “painful.”

We’re going to talk about the stages of grief and loss and how those parallel stages of transitions. William Bridges has done lots of work on how change impacts people, especially the workplace and what kinds of stages happen. Again, regardless of the change, we all go through a process of working from an event that kind of hits us, the change itself, to a place of being able—except this isn’t not always the right word, some changes, we’re like, “Yeah, I never would have voted for that one,” But moving to a place of being able to put life together where it works again. So again, it depends on change. We’re going to talk through all of that.

Thinking about what helps people bounce back when change comes, and not just bounce back, but bounce back stronger with skills that are like, “You know what? I walked through that; it was hard. These are some things I learned in the process that’s going to help me in my life.” And maybe, even that helps us help other people around us. Those things can be keys to really helping to manage life when it is disrupted. And then, what are some very specific strategies? What can you do immediately to help you positively manage change? All right, all of that.

Let’s start by describing change. Now, as I mentioned, change is normal, it’s natural, it’s inevitable, it’s unavoidable. In life, it can be positive or negative. I mean, many times when we think about changes, and I know the kind Dr. Stag was thinking of a “painful change,” you know, hard change, unexpected change, things like job loss, or relationship changes, separation, divorce, financial struggles, you know, having somebody in the family suffer from a health issue. You might suffer from a health issue. Mental health issue, substance misuse, I mean, there’s a whole list of things that can be hard and painful and traumatic and unexpected. You know, at the far end of that continuum, loss of loved ones, you know, very difficult, very challenging.

We don’t often think about the changes that are wonderful changes, things that we seek out in life. Maybe you’re in the process of applying for a different position; getting a promotion, a different job, if you get special recognition for an accomplishment. The Olympics are about to start, think about those, folks. Oh my gosh, to win some kind of medal or recognition, that’s a change that would be absolutely not many people in life get to have, those kind of changes.

Those wonderful changes also create stress in our lives. Again, when we think about change, we think painful, we think about stress. We usually think, Oh, the kind I don’t like.” All of it’s in a package and all of it, both the good and bad, the positive and the negative creates physiological changes inside of us.

The ones that are positive are really not that hard to cope with. Typically, we have to think about the ripple effect and others that might be affected, those aren’t so hard. The ones that are harder are the ones that can be experienced is grief and loss. Those are the kind we’re really going to focus on today. So just as this slide reminds us, change is any kind of alteration or transformation from one kind of place or situation to another, things end with change and other things begin.

Some people by personality and temperament respond a little more—they’re more adaptable to change than others; some people are just naturally more risk taking. Change, they’ll even seek change out which for people who kind of dig in their heels like, “Oh, I really don’t want my world to be shaken up. I’ll keep it the same way, almost forever even if it’s not working well.” Again, you’d fall on the continuum probably somewhere between those two extremes. But just to know your personality, your temperament, what you’ve experienced in life, what the change is, what’s in it for you can all be factors on how you adjust. So, let’s look at what some of the common reactions to change are.

When I talked about losses that can take place with change, I mean, there can be a loss of security. When you think about workplace change, this one is very common and all workplaces are changing. I get to do work in multiple settings, and I don’t know any that are change-free. If they are, they’re probably on their way down and they’re going to be out of business soon, because to stay in business, it requires innovation and change. In the process when you’re an employee with changes going on, it can feel scary. It can feel like, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hear rumors that we have a reorg or a merger or an acquisition or layoffs and I'm really concerned.”

You know, for many of us, what we do, our identity can get very tied to that. And if there is a change in a role or in a responsibility, and that role or responsibility kind of internally helped define us; that can really rock our world. Now, here’s the positive one. This would be for a change that you voted for. You know, there’s anticipation, you’re very excited, something good is coming up and you are looking forward to it. Isn’t that the kind of change we wish? “Oh, yeah, bring me more of those.”

Anxiety, yes, related to that loss of security or just the unknown, and I know what happens in organizations. When things are unknown, the rumor mill cranks, gossip is pretty rampant. When we don’t have accurate information and facts, we tend to fill ourselves up with all of that kind of stuff, that speculation, and many times, that creates more anxiety that is not recommended. That’s human nature but not the place we want to land.

Depending on the change when things shake, that loss of purpose and meaning in life, that can be really hard. Think about even if you happen to be a parent and the way children grow up in life, and I’ve gotten to do lots of transitions with kids who are now adults, but I know with every step depending on your role and how you define parenting, we’re all trying to work ourselves out of the job, right? There can be a loss; you may not be needed as much in life, and that’s what you want cognitively but emotionally, that can be difficult.

With change, if it creates sadness, if we long for the past, that can bring us to a low place. We can be vulnerable to even situational depression or even clinical depression. There can also be a loss of trust. It’s common in the workplace when change is intense.

People will question, “Do they know what they’re doing?” or they’re really looking at the work kind of down here in trench where the rest of us are. There can be a lot of questioning, especially if what is said and then what is done, there’s a gap there. What is said is not actually what’s done. And again, it takes a long time to rebuild trust. Trust is like a wooden tower of blocks. It takes a long time to build it up. One really bad event, situation, boom! Blocks are scattered. So yeah, I know that’s tough.

I would add to the list, resistance. Depending on the change, lots of times, a common reaction is just to dig in your heels and go, “Oh, I just long for yesterday. Why do things have to be different?” I love it, that the Holmes-Rahe Life Change Unit Scale is included in this presentation. So, let me give you a little background on this scale. This has been around for a long time. What this scale does is have you look at your life for the last year to 18 months and check off all the events that you have been through.

Each event is a assigned a numeric value like the slide tells us between one and a hundred, things that are more stressful and harder actually have higher value. Even good things, like you’ll see a vacation on here, even wonderful things in life have values assigned there. Again, it’s not an all-inclusive, like you may have specific things in your own life. I know this is just a sampling, but on the real scale, they’ve got at the top death of a loved one. And I know from working with people in counseling, loss of a child, out-of-order death, unexpected deaths, traumatic death, those things get values at a hundred or very, very close depending on the person.

And if you like to look, you can Google it and do it online, but you check off all the things you’ve been through in the last year to 18 months. You total your score. And if you’ve been through a lot in the last year to 18 months, let me just tell you when you total your score, when you read the scale, it will tell you the higher your score, the more likely you are to develop physical illness, have an accident or to develop depression or anxiety. Now, it doesn’t mean that if your score if high, that will happen to you.

What do you think makes a difference in whether it happens, like we get sick, we have accidents because we’re distracted or we develop depression or anxiety, a lot of it has to do with what we’re about to talk about, those coping resources inside of us, things that I know for people make a difference; having a bigger picture of life beyond the events that we go through, maintaining perspective, trying to find optimism, having support. I know sense of humor actually can help people keep on keeping on in the hardest of times, safe spiritual beliefs, and I know that’s very personal.

I know that we all have to dig deep to think about what’s going to help me get through when my numbers are really high. I might also add taking good care of yourself, being physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually in touch and making sure you’re aware of what you’re doing, how you’re doing and then you work on daily making choices that help you with advancement in those areas, help you get better traction.

And really, as I talk about this, I’ll always think of the Serenity Prayer. You know, “God, grant me this serenity to accept these things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” I think that’s a very good back drop as you do this Holmes-Rahe Life Change Unit Scale, and it’s a really good lead in into talking about grief and loss and how do you get through things that are really tough.

All right, these stages are based on the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and I’ll tell you now, with grief and loss, it’s not that every stage is gone through sequentially by every person who goes through a similar change. What we know is that you can waive in and out of stages. Depending on what the change is, you may not experience every stage. Again, it depends on you.

The reason we include this, it’s important for you to recognize when I go through major change, if I find myself initially feeling shocked or numb or like, “This is a nightmare and I’m going to wake up and it’s not really happening,” yeah, that’s common.

If there’s a part of you that kind of shakes your head and goes, “I’m not even believing this; this can’t be real,” that kind of denial. Again we don’t want to stay there indefinitely, but we’re wired as humans to do that to help us begin to take in something that may be horribly traumatic and very, very difficult to deal with in our lives. With changes, we can be angry, we can be blaming, we can feel like a victim, again, not the place we want to stay but very normal. And if you find yourself having negative emotions, recognize those for what they are. I’ve heard it said, “Go ahead, have a pity party; just don’t be the last one to leave.” You know, yeah, we’re normal, we’re human. We experience negative things.

Bargaining is really the stage where we try to make sense of what’s going on. And even though we may never have wanted it, we have to reach a place of being able to say, “Okay, I really want a life that works for me. I’ve got to get to that place,” kind of that back and forth, inside is what bargaining is all about. When people are in that stage, they might also feel very guilty or very remorseful. It depends on what the change is. I know with something as traumatic as loss of someone because of suicide, that’s very complicated grief. That can cause people to feel tremendously guilty. We all go back to, “What could have I said? What could have I done?” That’s a horrible kind of grief.

Depression, sadness being down, again, recognizing the losses, being able to acknowledge those, look at how your life was impacted and go, “I’ve got to work this through. It’s okay to be sad.” We’re going to talk about how do you get these negative feelings out coming up.

Reaching a place of acceptance or just being to move forward, even if you would never say, “I accept it. I'm so glad it happened,” not that kind of acceptance, but “I'm going to put my life together and be able to move forward.”

All right, stages of transition. This right from William Bridges’ work; there are three stages. And in this, if we diagramed it, it would look like the letter U with kind of a long tails, the first and the last of the U. The beginning stage is the beginning tail on the left down to the down turn. Okay, you’re going to section off the very bottom of U. That’s going to be stage two, and then the up-turn will be stage three, all right!

So stage one is endings. What happens in endings is a change is announced; something happens, a situation, things end. We might feel shocked, denial, anger, it’s a nightmare, some of the stuff I just named with those stages of grief.  When endings come, the goal is to reach a place of reconciling, making peace with the past so we can move into that neutral zone. I’ve also heard it called “exploration.” In that stage, I’ve seen that diagram like a whirlwind, like a tornado or a hurricane. In that place of whirlwind, we’ve got to get reoriented. We’ve got to work through those emotions to reach the place of beginnings.

In that third stage of beginnings, we want to get recommitted. Now, the change takes place, transition is the process, the psychological process. Typically, change is an external event. It happens quickly, it’s like that moment in time, that’s when the change took place. The transition getting through these stages, that is the psychological process over time. And again, depending on what the change is, that takes varying lengths of time just like getting through stages of grief. It takes varying lengths of time. We’re going to look at each stage in a little more detail.

So, endings as I mentioned; shock, denial, anger, there might also be resistance there or grief, kind of what helps in this stage, awareness. Staying in touch with reality, focusing on like I mentioned that Serenity Prayer, what do you have control over here, digging in where you do have control, trying to let go of what you don’t have control over. You know, some people in the hardest of emotional response will self-medicate or numb those feelings. I just might mention things like—any kinds of behavior that can become addictive, misuse of substances. That can be prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, illegal substances, alcohol, it can be food, it can be spending, it can be gambling, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that can really tangle us up.

We want to make sure we don’t get tangled up and stuck, and that’s the really whole goal of showing you and talking about these stages. We want to do what we can to make sure we’re progressing.

All right, in this neutral zone or the zone of expiration, this is the whirling around, tornado, hurricane-looking thing. We can feel overwhelming stress. We can feel confused or disoriented, very anxious, fatigue, we can have a lot of trouble making decisions, or sleeping or eating on a regular schedule, getting healthy food in us. Our threshold for tolerance may be really low. We’re very irritable, little things really get under our skin, we may—again, it depends on us and how we respond, or we may cry more easily or get angry more easily.

What is recommended is you stay very aware. You know, how am I doing? What am I doing? How am I coping? What feelings am I having? You know, express those feelings and again, we’re individual, find ways that work for you. I might mention EAP is a wonderful benefit and no cost to you, confidential, trains people to help you kind of move along on this transition curve that happens to all of us in life.

You now, reflect, gain perspective, reevaluate priorities, make sure you get support in place, use your support system. That can be friends, clergy. It can be, again, EAP. You know, make sure if it’s organizational change that you really get accurate information. You assess your role as workplace change is coming or have already occurred and you find yourself a niche where you can add value. That can make a huge difference in getting to the upswing of that you.

Now, in the upswing, again, this is the stage that we all live for. This is the stage where we feel better. OK, we feel optimistic and energized. We’re able to get engage, we’re focused. We feel our creative juices flowing, we’re more productive. We’re enthusiastic about life again.

To get to this place, we’ve got to really do our work. Don’t get stuck in those numbing behaviors, don’t let yourself become a workaholic or you just go—I’m just going to work and not think about how I’m doing, just kind of burry my head in the sand because I’ve got a lot of things that can take my attention.

I’m not saying that having diversion and the ability to compartmentalize isn’t a good thing, but make sure it’s healthy for you. Make sure you’re not working so that you avoid feeling. Again, feelings are normal, natural. I’m a counselor. We got to get through them to get to a better place.

So, what kind of I want you to think about in terms of change, we don’t get just one and we get to work it all the way through and go, “Okay. Oh, thank you. Now, I’m in beginnings with that one. I’m ready for another change now.”

In reality, we are going through multiple changes in life simultaneously; changes at work, changes internally with us, changes in roles, responsibilities. You know, even if there’s not a reorg, your job can just evolve. There is a reorg, a merger or acquisition, there are all kinds of changes involved in your personal life, tremendous amounts of change.

One of the suggestions is to take an inventory, kind of like that Holmes-Rahe Life Change Unit Scale, what are you going through, kind of get a handle on it. Think about where you are with those major changes. And again, if you feel like you’re not moving forward, get help.

So, let’s talk more details. What can you do to successfully manage change? I’ve mentioned at this first one. Could a step back and go, “I am human.” I remember that counsel on that webinar, she said, “I need to work on just accepting feelings for what they are.” Feelings aren’t right or wrong and you can’t tell yourself, “I’m not going to be sad, I’m not going to be anxious, I’m not going to be stressed; I’m just going to shift gears.” We don’t have control over our feelings, but what we do have control over is our responses; what we say and what we do and what we think about. This is cognitive behavioral therapy.

So, in the midst of intense change work on how do I feel, what am I telling myself, what am I doing, what am I thinking about? In those areas of speaking, doing, thinking, we can make progress. You know, think about some healthy coping strategies that have helped you in the past. We have all been through things. If you live long enough, if you’re breathing on this planet, you will experience changes in your life we can draw from.

“I remember I went through this, it was really hard. How did I get through it? What did I tell myself? What did I do? How can I learn form that?” That’s a very helpful strategy. Remember, transition is a process. Change happens. It’s the event. Again, that bullet is not like update with William Bridges, but you’ve got to get through the psychological process, the internal process of transition; the stages of grief we talked about and the stages of transition. And it doesn’t happen just with a change, like this is the reorg, this is the merger, this is the acquisition. OK, everybody knows what to do, let’s get to work. It’s a psychological process to get to a better place.

You know, take time to acknowledge and grieve the losses that change brings, even if they’re good changes. If you get relocated and you leave your old friends, your old work group, your old neighborhood, if you were close to family and then you’re not, it could be a great opportunity for you but there’s a lot involved in that kind of a change. Recognize that and even think about the way change impacts people around you. And now two of us are impacted exactly the same, and we have to accept that people near and dear to us don’t see change or accept it the way that we do and that can create relationship issues. Let them be, you be, talk about it. One way is not right, one way is not wrong unless they’re doing numbing self-medicating, they’re stuck on that U. That’s a problem. Talk to people you can trust and/or the mental health professional. Yeah, we’re going to talk about your EAP benefits coming up. Few more strategies here to help you. There we go.

Allow extra time. You know, in the downturn of stages of grief and in the downturn of that U of stages of transition, it can be really hard to focus. We’re not at our peak performance at that point. We have to really be hyper vigilant. I think about safety, make sure you’re being very attentive to your environment. If an email is really important, you might want to proofread it, make sure it really says what you’re trying to say. If you’re having to make a decision, make sure you think it through, go slow, talk to other people.

Again, use your resources, allow extra time. Know that that is normal and common in the midst of the intense change. Make sure you focus on your life. And whatever you’re going through, hopefully there’s more to life than just that one slice of the pie. Make sure as I mentioned, you gain perspective. You find meaning and purpose. You draw on depending on your beliefs, spiritual beliefs, your faith, things that I know can make a difference, smiling, laughing, hobbies, being with people you enjoy, prayer, meditation, all of those release endorphins that help us. Manage life when it’s hard.

You know, allow yourself to reevaluate, reprioritize, step back. When we do this at work, we have to set goals annually typically. Do that in your life, not just for work. Reevaluate, reprioritize, make sure you’re not so far down in the trench; you can’t see beyond where you’re walking currently. Make sure you work on building resilience. Look at these bullets for what are some characteristics of resilience, folks.

They are able to use a backdrop of life where they keep on keeping on. They gain perspective. Again, they’re not always positive but they figure out. You know, it’s the old saying, “how to make lemonade out of lemons.” I mean, they just keep on keeping on. They are developing of skills of optimism. Believe me, just because you’re not born positive or optimistic doesn’t mean you can’t work on developing that skill set. Again, it’s the very things I mentioned earlier. It’s what are you telling yourself, what are you saying, what are you doing?

Remain focused; really get your mind to a place within the present moment so you’re not anxious about the future or feeling drained and guilty about the past. Do what you can right now. Stay flexible and open minded. I know that’s not always easy. If you’re more resistant by personality and temperament, work on it. You can develop skills to help you be more flexible and more open minded.

Find some people who are and try to use them as your role models. Work on being organize; take control where you can. Get your to-do list, get focused, get good traction in life. Be less reactive and more proactive. Again, less victim mentality and more like, “Okay, how can I make the best of this?”

All right, so what are some important points to remember about change? You know, for some, change can be very unsettling. It can cause us lots of stress. You know, while other people may adapt more easily and view changes, “Hey, look at this great opportunity.” And again, it depends on the change how much your life is being impacted, what’s in it for you?

I think one important point form this bullet is, think about where you are, how you’re doing, look around. Or some people are doing a little bit better, what are they doing that’s helping them do a little bit better? How could I be a little more like them? You know, you’re not going to prevent change, it’s unavoidable, absolutely. We can take control of our response, how we cope with change, how we manage getting through stages of grief and those stages of transition.

Resilience.  I love resilience. That’s the ability to bounce back, not just bouncing bad but bouncing back stronger. We recover from the challenges that we’ve been through, we increase the capacity to thrive in the future. We’re about getting better over time. By being more resilient, we successfully manage change more quickly and more effective.




By Kris Hooks, MEd, LPC, LMFT, CEAP, and Rachel Pauli, MA, CHES ©2018 Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, assessments, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological, or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2018 Beacon Health Options, Inc.



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