What Does A 'Fresh Start' Even Mean? The Psychology Of Dealing With Change

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woman dealing with change
Self

Change is good. At least that’s what we’re told. We’re conditioned to think that the ebb and flow of life is good for us and takes us to new, positive stages in life.

But change doesn’t always feel good. It can be painful, agonizing and sometimes it takes us to places we don’t want to go. It’s natural to resist new patterns in life, even if the lifestyle gurus tell you otherwise.

Change comes for us all at some point or another and it turns up in a variety of formats. Relocating to a new city, changing jobs, starting a new relationship, ending an old one, dealing with loss, or even just trying to implement a new fitness regime — it’s all change and it’s not always easy.

So how do we do it? How do we take the lifestyle we’ve come to know and squeeze it into a new mold? And what if it simply won’t fit?

The Myth of the “Fresh Start”

Change and fresh starts are typically advertised to us as positive, regenerative experiences.

Change is synonymous with growth and self-improvement. But how many of us have found ourselves struggling to adapt to new life stages?

RELATED: How To Accept & Cope With Uncomfortable Change (During Times Of Crisis)

Sometimes there’s nothing “fresh” about a fresh start. They can be stale, gone off, and haunt us like a bad smell in the fridge that you can’t get rid of.

This idea of waking up with the opportunity to have a begin anew is something of a poorly advertised myth.

Change happens all around us in ways both big and small. Sure, it can feel like it all hits you out of the blue one day, but your “fresh start” has probably been brewing for quite some time.

Plus, it's okay to hold on to some aspects of your old life even if you're experimenting with a new you. Don't feel pressured to jump headfirst into every change that comes knocking.

Our brains are built to reject change.

As children, we’re taking in new surroundings all the time. Our brains can’t get enough of change. They thrive on it.

But part of getting older involves accepting life the way it is. We come to associate certain routines and habits with survival, which makes facing any disruption to these habits difficult and even a tad traumatic.

Part of the brain, the amygdala, is actually hardwired to resist change and processes it as a threat, releasing fight or flight hormones when routines are suddenly disrupted.

To breakdown the psychology of change, we talked to life coach María Tomás-Keegan, who works with clients to help them thrive during inevitable periods of transition.

“The process of adapting to change can take different paths,” Tomás-Keegan tells us. “Some people face the shock head-on and do whatever it takes to manage through it and overcome the adverse circumstances.

“On the other end of the spectrum, others will feel victimized and freeze in place, not knowing what to do,” she says.

The reality is that change almost always comes with uncertainty. If we were familiar with the outcome it wouldn’t really be change now, would it?

Our brains feel most at ease when we understand all eventualities. Thus, it is almost inevitable to feel a level of stress, hurt or upset when change brings along questions about the future.

A 1992 study proved that uncertainty produces fear by testing subjects’ reactions to being told they were going to receive an electric shock. Those who knew about the shock and were told how intense the shock would be exhibited significantly less fear than those who weren’t prepared.

Or TLDR: Uncertainty = bad.

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Your brain can be trained to accept change.

Brains are protective to a fault. They sense red flags or even imagine some just to stop us from getting hurt.

But change, good or bad, is inevitable. And though it’s terrifying to adjust, it can be more terrifying to be stuck in the past.

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Flexing your brain activity and taking on new skills can prepare your brain to adjust to life changes. It’s hard to believe, but sudoku, learning a language, or performing skills that push you out of your comfort zone may inadvertently help you when life throws something unexpected your way.

Conditioning your brain to be constantly open to new information makes processing change a little easier.

If you’ve got any big life-changing decisions coming up, it’s vital to take care of your body so that your brain can think rationally about your choices.

A study examining how judicial decisions are made showed that executive functions can be restored and mental fatigue overcome, in part, by interventions such as viewing scenes of nature, taking a short rest, experiencing positive moods, and increasing glucose levels in the body.

Tomás-Keegan recommends taking time to get to know whatever change has come your way in order to best acclimate to it.

“The successful way through change is to acknowledge that it happened, become aware of the implications of the change, and adapt to the new situation it presents,” she tells us.

“This is best done in small steps so the adjustment is not overwhelming and a sense of control returns.”

Dealing with change is also a skill that can be practiced. The more you do it, the more confident you become in your ability to take on new stages — even if it’s intimidating at first.

RELATED: 9 Ways Only The Most Difficult Changes In Life Make You Stronger & More Resilient

Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment.