Jessica Aradas, Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
4 December 2018
We live in a society operationalised within time and date, and even though one calendar year blends all too easily to the next, a kind of pressure sinks in when we think about a “new year” – as though that new year needs to be starkly different.
Whether it’s “new year, new me” popping up on your social media posts, or a quiet introspection on “What did I do this year, and where am I going now?”, the pressure to change, better, or go places is all around come December/January.
You might be feeling excited…
For some, these reflections can be exciting and invigorating. You might be able to recall all that you’ve achieved this year or any positive changes that you’ve noticed within yourself. You might be excited for a new path in life, perhaps university, a new job, a welcomed baby, or your next great getaway.
What we tend to neglect around these conversations is that change can be scary. Things don’t always go the way that we plan; partly because we’re not perfect self-determined robots, and mostly because we can’t control our entire destiny in life.
Most people will still go after what they want in life, knowing that sometimes there will be failure, but what if you’re someone who is so afraid of change, that this anxiety makes you withdraw altogether?
Responsibility and Change
Being in charge of whether or not we exact change in our lives is essentially responsibility, and responsibility can be deeply frightening. Some people struggling with anxiety may displace responsibility by shrinking focus to one small area that can be controlled, such as a new diet.
For others, avoiding responsibility may take the form of being “out of one’s mind”, think living in a video game world, turning to drugs or alcohol, or whatever escapism works. Others may shift responsibility for oneself by placing blame and responsibility externally – “it’s their fault, so how can I change?”
However, in a weird way, when we shrink away from responsibility we also shrink away from freedom – the possibility to truly shape what we want in life. So in order to make peace with responsibility, we must confront our fears of failure, success, and maybe most frightening, the unknown.
How to confront fear of change
In confronting these fears, the most important considerations are:
What is out of my control, and how can I make efforts to accept this?
For instance, I may want to improve my anxiety, but I cannot necessarily control the way my body responds to anxiety triggers. I cannot rid my mind of every prompt that makes me anxious. And I certainly cannot control the circumstances in which I may have developed anxiety. In accepting this, how can I adopt a kind and understanding attitude to the fact that these are not elements completely within my control rather than chastising myself for having what feels like a flaw?
What is within my control, and how can I prompt myself into meaningful action?
Sometimes we feel completely out of control, however, throughout our day we make a tonne of decisions, sometimes completely unconsciously. The first step is to making meaningful changes is to take yourself out of auto-pilot and become aware of the decisions you do make.
For instance, I cannot control that my body has been triggered, and become anxious, however I can control what decisions I make after this.
Do I spiral into hyperventilating, or do I choose to regulate my breathing by slowing down?
Do I focus my attention on negative things that inevitably make me more anxious, or work on focusing my attention to things that are neutral?
Do I in future avoid those triggers in fear, or tackle them knowing that the more I avoid the more anxious I become?
Do I ruminate on things endlessly, knowing that thinking about it won’t change anything, or do I get out of my head and do something that is effective?
So if this December you’re sensing some discomfort with change and responsibility, and finding yourself shrinking away in fear, ask yourself what do I truly want in life, and what is within my control to change?
Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
Jessica is an understanding and passionate psychologist who enjoys working collaboratively with clients in order to meet their needs, and enhance their independence. Jessica has experience in outpatient, inpatient, and day-program settings. She has a special interest in eating disorders and has worked at several private and community-based treatment services. Jessica holds a concurrent position at Northside Clinic in the inpatient eating disorders unit.