Sarah Boyd


The 9 most powerful questions to get perspective in a difficult situation

How To Deal With The Psychological Effects Of Change

Change is a regular part of our lives.

Change comes in all shapes and sizes – from starting a new job, or taking an overseas holiday; to an unwanted health diagnosis or loss of a loved one.

No matter whether change is big or small, wanted or unwanted, positive or negative; it can all have a similar impact on our brain.

It has been said that “the only thing that is constant is change”. 

(Image credit @jshnaa)

(Image credit @jshnaa)

So it’s important that we understand the effect of change on our psychology in order to manage it more effectively.

Some of the key components of change – uncertainty, new situations and emotions – have a critical impact on our brain. 



One of the main parts of change, is uncertainty – being unsure of what the future is going to look like.

Your brain approaches any type of uncertainty as a threat (this even applies to positive changes in your life).

Like any other threat, it activates the fight or flight response; pumping you with adrenaline & energy, and shutting down your focus on unimportant items.

Your brain will use all that added energy and focus to try to “predict the future” in order to gain some kind of certainty. This means we worry or get anxious in an attempt to find certainty.

This strategy of “prediction” releases a small amount of dopamine in the brain (the reward chemical). So we actually have a small amount of positive feeling every time we “predict the future” (worry or get anxious).



Another main part of change is dealing with new situations – things we’ve never done or seen before.

The routine & habitual part of your life is run by one part of your brain (basal ganglia) that doesn’t require very much fuel or capacity to run.

But anything that is new, is run by a different part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) that requires huge amounts of energy, and only has a small capacity before it needs a break.  

This is why when you are starting a new job or have become a new parent, you feel mentally exhausted & frazzled, and struggle then to have any mental capacity left for even basic tasks.



Another factor that makes change psychologically challenging, is when there is an emotional component to it.

This is true in many situations such a grief, change of jobs or break down of relationships.

Your emotional brain (the limbic system) is the most primal part of your brain, and reacts faster than any other part of your brain. 

The part of your brain that controls these emotional reactions, adding rational thought to the process, is the prefrontal cortex. As mentioned, this part of your brain requires huge energy and only has a small capacity.



1 Prepare

We need to control what is in our power to control. Sometimes we become anxious because we haven’t actually prepared for an upcoming situation that we need to.

Mastery does a lot to reduce worry – think about an area of your life that you do with ease and great competency. You often don’t worry about that area as much because of this confidence.


2 Create Space

Understanding that any change, whether positive or negative, will be mentally taxing, can help you to create space for that change.

Where is in your control – don’t make too many changes at once.

Where it’s outside of your control –  calve our space and slow down in order to deal, grieve or adapt to what’s been placed infront of you.


3 Go For A Walk

Physical activity has huge psychological benefit when dealing with change.

Not only does it give an outlet to the extra energy you get during a fight or flight stress response to uncertainty; it also activates feel-good chemicals in your brain that studies have shown have a similar effect to anti-depressant medication.


4 Be Kind To Yourself

Particularly when you are going through major change, you will often not feel like yourself mentally and emotionally.

You may find you have less patience, or a smaller capacity to remember things or engage in situations.

Rest, sleep and kindness are essential during these times of transition.


NOTE: Also remember that if you are feeling like your anxiety or heavy feelings are becoming constant, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Sometimes even just a few conversations with a psychologist can help you get great insight and create a plan to deal with what is in front of you.


Change is a critical and regular part of our lives.

Learning to deal and adapt to new situations, develops internal resiliency. Resilience has been found to be one of the best predictors of success long term. 

Understanding the effects of change on your brain can help you plan for the best possible outcome and be kind to yourself when things don’t necessarily go to plan.

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The 9 most powerful questions to get perspective in a difficult situation.