Balancing Act: The Art of Coping With Change
LeBron McBride, PhD, MPH Fam Pract Manag. 2005; 12 (1): 68. ©2005 American Academy of
Whoever said that "nothing is constant except change" was right on target. We
cannot live very well unless we learn to accept that change will often show up on our
doorstep unannounced. During the last several years, change has not only appeared at the
doorstep but also barged right in and made
itself at home in many arenas of the medical practice. Here are a few suggestions to keep
in mind during times of change and transition:
In the midst of a major change, it may appear that your whole life is out of control and
there is nothing to anchor it. However, it is usually our reaction to change that narrows
our focus and blinds us to the things that remain constant in our lives. The majority of
transitions are not as major as we perceive them. Over time, you may not even remember
them. To gain better perspective, ask yourself how important an issue will be in a year.
As you gain more experience, you will realize that some of the changes you thought were so
difficult have become the things for which you are most
Talk with others outside your field. Friends, clergy or counselors can help us see the
larger picture. Attempting to adjust to change without support is like attempting to row a
boat with one oar. It keeps us circling around change rather than moving forward to
incorporate the change into our lives
in a positive manner.
Review Your Assumptions
We may be forced to adjust or even let go of certain assumptions or beliefs as we review
some of the stressful changes in our lives. If we lose a job, does that shake or shatter
our belief about our calling to medicine or our philosophy of medical practice? When we
find ourselves in a relationship
conflict or dissolution, does it shatter our belief about trusting others? If a patient
files a lawsuit against us, does it shatter certain beliefs about patient care or the way
we practice? Some assumptions or beliefs outlive their usefulness and, if we do not review
them, become destructive.
When life feels unstable, the easiest reaction is to hold on too tightly to our past
experiences. We lock into our comfort zone, grit our teeth and suffer the status quo at
any cost. But this will often result in losing even more control. I see this when I
counsel couples and one partner is pulling away from the relationship while the other
partner is caught reeling from
this change. The temptation is for that person to hold onto or pursue the distancing
partner more intensely, which usually results in even more distancing. Overcontrolling or
overfunctioning to stop change doesn't work, at least not in the long run. Sort out what
you can and cannot control and proceed accordingly.
Change often involves negotiation, compromise and dialogue. If we refuse to budge, we
become like a stiff tree that could snap in the wind. If we are willing to be flexible, we
become more like a tree capable of bending and enduring the tests of the wind. Rigidity
can cause us to resist even the positive changes in our personal and professional worlds,
enables us to grow from these challenges.
Transcend Your Circumstances
We can transcend our immediate circumstances by going deep within our psyche to tap a
reservoir of strength or by seeking support from a power outside ourselves. Spirituality
is not escapism, but rather the discovery of additional resources that provide strength
for us in times of difficult transitions.
Expect the Unexpected
Change is a fact of life that needs not be seen as a necessary evil. It may move us toward
growth and wholeness. If we embrace certain changes rather than fight them, and if we
incorporate the suggestions above, we can make
life and its transitions less cumbersome and disruptive. Be prepared. Change may be
walking up the sidewalk at this very moment.
Dr. McBride is director of behavioral medicine at Floyd Medical Center's
Family Practice Residency Program in Rome, Ga.
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