Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


How to Cope With Change

Strategies for dealing with your emotions during life transitions.

Key points

  • Whether or not it is planned, change can be emotionally difficult.
  • It's normal to experience positive and negative emotions around significant life transitions.
  • Through reflection and with support, one can manage emotions and be resilient through change.
Ross Findon / Unsplash
Ross Findon / Unsplash

Sometimes, life throws us curveballs. We aren’t expecting things to change and suddenly they do. There are also times when we plan changes, such as a move or the status of a relationship, but they do not turn out the way that we would hope or expect.

Whether you find yourself adjusting to a change that you planned or trying to make the best of a situation you didn’t anticipate, it’s important to protect your mental health as you transition and make necessary adjustments to your life. Here are some things to consider and strategies to use so that you can become stronger and more resilient, whether you planned for your life to change or not.

Acknowledge both negative and positive emotions surrounding the change

If you were prepared for the change, you may be happy about it, but it’s still causing you stress. If you didn’t expect your circumstances to change, you may feel shock, disbelief, sadness, anger, and grief. Either way, acknowledging all the feelings that you have is necessary to know how to cope. Even if you didn’t expect anything to change, you still may find something positive about it. And skipping the step of acknowledging your negative emotions will create defensiveness.

It’s normal to have mixed emotions around changes, to wonder whether you made the right decision, or to wish things were the way they used to be. Recognizing and normalizing negative thoughts and feelings will allow you to make space in your head for other feelings. It will also allow you to move to the next step.

Make a list of what has changed and what will be different

If you have been expecting change, this may feel unnecessary. But I would encourage you to do it anyway because sometimes we don’t realize how much about our lives is different after a move, a new job, or a change in our relationship until time passes. That realization can hit you unexpectedly, so making a list of the potential ways the change affects you can prevent or minimize getting surprised by your emotions.

You can be flexible with your list, with a column for aspects of change you didn’t expect that are positive and negative, or a list of things you hope for as a result of the change. Keep the list someplace you can find it and refer to it as you go through different phases of adjustment.

Keep a journal to write about your feelings and experiences as you adjust to change

While writing in a journal is not for everyone, it can be helpful during life transitions. The reason is that you are able to look back at previous entries, see how change impacts you as it unfolds, and reflect on the progress that you’ve made and how your emotions change over time. Looking back on hard days and knowing that you no longer feel the same can be encouraging. If you don’t see much change or progress over time, that may be a sign that you need to seek more support.

Seek emotional support from people you trust

Not everyone knows what it’s like to go through significant transitions and changes. Even if yours is something exciting like buying a home or getting married, you still want people you love and trust to rally around you for days when you feel mixed emotions.

If you’re going through something difficult, like losing a job or breaking up with someone, you need to have people around you who will listen and provide compassion. People going through big life changes are not always seeking advice, so you want to have people in your circle who will be empathetic, without offering unsolicited suggestions on how to make the best of things.

When you do want advice, you want to choose people who will give advice that you can appreciate, rather than suggesting things you would never want to do. Basically, no matter what your needs are as you adjust, you want the support of people who know you well and understand you. If you’re finding that your circle is small, seek the support of a mental health professional, with whom you can build trust, and who has experience in helping others like you.

Unexpected change is difficult, and even positive, expected changes can feel hard sometimes. But transitions in life can be softened with the right strategies and a support network that cares about you. You may even start to see good things emerge that make the change easier to bear.

More from Carla Shuman Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today