WRITTEN BY ALICIA KOCH, FOUNDER OF THE LEGAL BELLETRIST 

(Part of the The Fears series)

It’s natural for every human being on the face of the planet to be comfortable with the status quo. We all revel in the comfort zone, with our little routines, with going to the same grocery stores, eating at the same restaurants, and doing the same thing. It gives us a sense of control – and which one of us doesn’t want to have a sense of control over our own lives? We all do. 

It makes us feel secure, like we are on top of things – especially in a world that often feels like it’s so out of control. With our lives feeling like everything fits nicely into little compartments, tidy and well organized, adding anything into the mix other than what we know is enough to drive anyone over the edge. 

Yes, we are talking about change. A somewhat innocuous word but one that has the ability to send chills up and down the spine of even the strongest person. Sweat dripping down your face and your palms getting hot and flustered, the thought of anything disrupting your beautiful, predictable world has you in a tailspin. And trust us, you wouldn’t be alone.  

In a recent study by TePe as part of a campaign raising awareness about the importance of good oral health, it found that millions of Brits admit they hate change – but many recognise it could be holding them back. For example, 32% of those polled fear they’ve missed out on new experiences and opportunities because of their reluctance to break the mould, while 26% of adults lack the confidence to try new things, and 14% worry their attitude to change will negatively affect their health (Independent).

But what makes us fear change?

It seems like we are hard wired to resist change. 

According to clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD, the fear of change is evolutionary and dates back to ancestral times –  

“Our ancestors preferred constancy as they inherently knew that change often brought a lack of safety.

For example, our ancestors needed to move around to search for food, water, and shelter to survive. Staying in a location where these essential resources had been depleted out of fear could ultimately lead to starvation, dehydration, or death of the pack.”  (Very Well Mind)

It makes sense – intrinsically we are aware that dealing with the unknown or the unfamiliar poses a risk: it might be scary; it might bring with it a “lack of safety.” All theoretical, let’s be honest. None of us are fighting for our survival out in the wilderness – at least not in large numbers in any event – but that irrational fear is still present. 

And it’s that irrational fear that says: 

“If I were to try something new (e.g. move house, change jobs, get into a new relationship etc.), it might be incredible, but:

 

  • I might fail
  • I might not meet expectations
  • I might be disappointed
  • I might be out of my depth
  • I might not know what is going on
  • I might feel like an imposter.”

And that’s what keeps holding us back.

Change is scary. It’s the act of putting yourself out there – putting yourself into a vulnerable position, sometimes having to start from scratch – that poses a very real fear for most rational people. 

As Manly sets out in Very Well Mind – 

“When life feels predictable, we experience less stress and anxiety because we know what to expect. When life doesn’t feel predictable, and we are uncertain about what might be around the next corner, we feel stressed and anxious.”

When your irrational fear of change is more than just the jitters

It seems that the real fear of change – when it’s more than just the jitters – is an actual clinical phobia termed metathesiophobia.

While we all experience the fear of change, having a phobia like metathesiophobia will result in more extreme symptoms. 

Some of the common signs and symptoms of metathesiophobia are set out below (though if you recognise any of these symptoms, before jumping to conclusions, do speak to your doctor for a formal diagnosis) – 

  • You feel stuck in a situation but make no attempt at creating positive change;
  • You stay in a failing or toxic relationship, knowing it best to leave;
  • You remain in a dead-end job instead of searching for an ideal career; 
  • You have extreme anxiety over what is going to happen in your future;
  • You cannot accept simple life changes whether within or outside of your control;
  • You refuse to stray from an everyday routine because you’re uncertain of what will happen if you don’t stick to it;
  • You don’t socialise;
  • You frequently feel nauseous or have indigestion when you think about change;
  • You experience heart palpitations when you think about change, and
  • You find yourself shaking, sweating, or trembling at the thought of change.

To further understand how the fear of change can affect someone in a clinical sense, one needs to understand the difference between constructive and destructive fear. 

Constructive fear is the fear of an actual, physical threat and its purpose is to keep one safe from danger. 

Destructive fear – as the converse implies – is the fear of a non-existent threat i.e. there’s no actual threat. It’s only our minds playing tricks on us. 

Depending on the severity of a person’s fear of change, the fear could become a destructive fear. If left untreated or unchecked it could lead to –

  • Depression;
  • Anxiety;
  • Isolation;
  • Avoidance;
  • Stress;
  • Substance use disorders;
  • Staying in unhealthy environments;
  • Staying in toxic relationships, and
  • Suicidal ideation (Very Well Mind)

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide Crisis Helpline in South Africa on 0800 567 567 for support and assistance from a trained counsellor.

How can one cope with the fear of change?

Diagnosed phobias aside, how does a person who is struggling to accept change cope with it?

Here are a few suggestions:

Start with self-awareness – realise that you are merely human, that your daily comforts and routines are good for your sanity and try to keep you centred. BUT (and there’s always a but) know when you become too comfortable, too stagnant, too set in your ways. Know when your feeling of safety and security is keeping you from moving forwards in a positive manner. Know when your comfort is keeping you from achieving your goals. There needs to be a limit of how “secure” in the status quo you remain and that can only be determined by you.
Practice acceptance – it may seem like an impossible thing to do, but one of the first things you can do when faced with change is to accept that it’s happening. Take ownership, (as much as one can) of it. Some of the feelings that come with change, especially when it’s thrust upon you, is disempowerment. And that’s because it’s happening to you, instead of you taking charge of it. But if you accept it, take ownership of it, and realise that it’s happening, you can start to take back the power. Lean into the change, acknowledge that it’s there and that it’s now a part of your life – with all that it entails. From there, you can work on finding ways to take that change and move it in a new direction – one that suits you. Make it your own.
Control what you can – part of the strife that people find with change is the disempowerment that comes with it. So, leading on from Point 2, is putting things into action. Take decisive steps to help the situation you find yourself in. Make plans and increase your sense of control. Part of making plans can come from journaling – freely being the caveat. Allow yourself to freely jot down thoughts, feelings, ideas, road maps. Whatever you feel. You never know when something may be shaken from the tree. But writing it down, even in free flow, allows your mind to expand which can result in plans developing. From there you can take a rough idea and expand on it, develop a real road map of where you want to go. And it all starts with the jotting down of one idea and one action item. 
Limit your stress – change is inherently stressful, but given that stress has a way of creating health risks, it’s important to manage stress levels when experiencing change. Stress-management can come in a variety of forms. Perhaps it’s simply changing your perspective of change. See it as an invitation for new possibilities rather than a threat to the status quo. Perhaps stress can be managed through meditation or through speaking with a counsellor/coach or talking to friends or family. Whatever works for you – but manage your stress. Whatever that entails.
Practice patience remember the adage “life is about the journey, not the destination”, well that rings true here. Change is just a part of life – nothing ever really remains the same. As a human being you will experience a variety of life changes – growing up, changing jobs, getting married, having children, getting divorced, travel, death, moving home. The important thing here is not to view a change as something that you have to get use to immediately. Change (and the transition that comes with it) takes time. It will require plenty of patience and the acceptance that it may take a while to settle into a new way of life. And that’s ok. As long as you work on it, a little every day. But whatever you do, don’t fight against it. Take it all in your stride, remembering that it’s all a part of your journey. 
Change is inevitable. Some say: “as good as a holiday.” However you view change, the one thing we can say is don’t live your life on autopilot. Sometimes it takes the act of changing to realise your potential, to see what you’re really made of.

As Roy T. Bennett says – 

“It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow, and transform.”

Change can be seen as an act of transformation if you just get out of your own way. 

(Sources used and to whom we owe thanks – Very Well Mind; Psychology Today; Real Simple and Heart).     

About the Author, Alicia Koch, Founder of The Legal Belletrist. Alicia, an admitted attorney with over 10 years PQE, and now a legal writer and researcher, has established The Legal Belletrist to assist companies (in different sectors) to write well-researched articles that speak to each company’s core business, enabling growth and commercialism.

Click here to visit The Legal Belletrist website. Email: alicia@thebelletrist.com