When your plans get changed last minute and you're now dining in rather than dining out, do you roll with it or get angry? When your first appointment of the day runs long and you have to reschedule your second one, do you get aggravated and exasperated or do you simply flex and adjust? When your flight is canceled or delayed, does it fluster you all day, or do you take it in stride?
In a recent coaching client Zoom, my client shared that unexpected change -- even something as small as a shift in social plans -- brings on a feeling of panic. In looking at how to shift that experience, we took two different tacks:
First, we discussed The Six Human Needs.
If "Certainty" is one of your top two needs, of course when things you considered "certain" are suddenly no longer certain, you'd experience anxiety. In those moments, the remedy is not to retreat, but rather to LEAN INTO the discomfort, feel it, name it and reinforce the fact that it's not an actual threat, and the anxiety will pass. Repetitively sitting with discomfort is an effective way to get accustomed to it and reduce its grip on you.
Another way to overcome the panic response in the face of an unexpected change, is even in the midst of discomfort, shift your focus to solutions available in the moment. Yes, things are different than you expected, but how quickly can you reorient yourself?
Finally, as with everything, neuropathways are a big player. The default reaction is the stronger one until you create a new neuropathway, which happens with repetition. The more you practice anything, the more familiar it becomes. Every time you encounter a small, unexpected change, give it attention, accept it, reorienting quickly and focus on solutions. Over time you'll reinvent your response and become more emotionally flexible when things don't go the way you had planned.
Second, we inquired where else this panic response could be coming from.
Upon reflection, my client told me the panic they experience is a learned response. They reported that as a child, they frequently saw their father surprise their mother with suddenly changing situations, causing their mother to respond with panic in an attempt to recover and shift on the fly. My client recognized their own panic response to unexpected changes came simply from witnessing it over and over again in childhood. Makes perfect sense!
The moral of the story? Expectations of things always running the way they're planned can set you up for disappointment, so along with your plans, also allow for the possibility that they could change or fall through and prepare your mind for it.
Also, rather than simply accepting your default response if it happens, consider digging in a little bit! Ask yourself "Where might this response be coming from?" and "How can I reorient to this new situation?" and see what shows up!
Health and Arete,