Change is never far from our door, whether it’s breaking up with an ex, moving to a new city, the death of a relative, a pandemic, or the loss of a job. Even good changes, such as having a baby or getting a new job, can be stressful.
Change isn’t easy but here are some ways to help you cope with change and make it feel less scary.
Acknowledge your feelings.
If you feel resistant to change, then it is important to acknowledge your feelings. Don’t avoid your emotions, listen to them. Emotions are part of self-awareness. They help to tell a story. When you acknowledge and accept an emotion, you stop fighting it and are able to understand it and learn from it.
- Often, change brings up feelings of anxiety, worry, uncertainty and fear. You have to tell yourself that ‘It’s okay to feel worried and fearful.’ It is all part of being a human.
- If you need to grieve, then grieve and take care of your feelings. Even if the big change in your life is a happy one, accept that there will still be some emotional losses and work through them.
Remind yourself that you can’t control the outside world, but you can control your attitude and actions.
Change may turn your world upside down, but you still have control over how you respond to the situation. You can choose to approach the situation with anger and become frustrated or take your feelings out on others, or you can choose to see the situation as a new opportunity and approach it with an open and curious mind.
Journal about your worries.
- Change can bring about lots of insecurities, worries, and negative thoughts. Especially if you feel overwhelmed by change, start writing down all the things that contribute to you feeling overwhelmed. Writing things down can help you see that things are less negative than you first imagined.
- Firstly, write down what has changed in your life and what is challenging about it. Then, write down possible solutions.
But don’t just write down the negatives, write down the positives that have come from this change. There are always going to be pluses and minuses.
- Maybe due to this change you have met new people. Maybe you started practicing healthier habits. Maybe you became more positive or confident. Maybe the change helped you prioritize what is most important in your life. Change presents us with the opportunity to grow, and it’s important to acknowledge how things have become better as a result.
It is always helpful to talk to others who have had similar experiences.
It can be comforting to talk to someone who’s going through a similar change as you. Talking to someone who’s “been there” can be really helpful, knowing that he or she got through it okay.
- Ask for advice on what you can do to get through the change.
- Don’t bottle your feelings up; talk to someone. Talking always helps.
Try relaxation techniques
Relaxation can help decrease stress and increase emotional wellbeing. Techniques such as meditation, mindfulness and pranayama can help you relax and cope with stress more effectively.
Do light exercise.
Exercising two to three times a week has been found to significantly decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even just walking around locally can help you feel better. I am not necessarily talking about going to the gym or doing a workout. You could swim, cycle, walk the dog or go jogging – all of these are going to help you feel more positive.
Let go of what has happened and move on.
Focusing on the past will not help you to move on with your life. We cannot move forward when we are constantly looking back. It’s no use wanting your ‘old life’ back or spending all of your moments wishing things would go back to what they used to be. That type of thinking is just going to hold you back.
- Instead of focusing on the past, anchor yourself in the present moment by doing mindfulness practice.
- Try not to rehash the past or rehearse the future. Each time you find yourself doing this bring yourself back to the present moment by using mindful breathing practices.
Keep up your regular schedule as much as possible.
- The more change that is happening, the more important it is to stick to your regular schedule. Having some things that stay the same, like walking the dog every morning or waking up at the same time, gives us an anchor. This anchor is a reminder that some things are still the same, and it gives your brain a little bit of a rest. The brain loves routine, so try to stick to a daily schedule.
The way we talk to ourselves during times of change is so important. If we talk in a harsh and negative way, we are going to make ourselves feel worse. But if we talk to ourselves in a calm, positive and supportive way, it is going to help us go through the change easier.
Here are some supportive phrases we could use:
- Everyone finds change challenging
- I am not alone in the way I am feeling
- I acknowledge and accept my feelings
- Things change and that’s ok
- I will get through this challenging time
- I will learn and grow from this change
- Change is a part of life
Finally, give yourself a break. Everyone finds change challenging. You may feel a little out of control – and that’s ok. You may feel like you are not living up to your expectations – and that’s also ok.
My last piece of advice is to make a point to laugh more. Laughing increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—and that makes you feel good. Laughing also decreases cortisol—a stress-producing hormone. So, times may be challenging but there is always time to smile.
You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.
If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.
is traditionally based on the four foundations and that is what I want to
address here, but before I do that, I want to discuss an issue I have with the
modern mindfulness movement. To be more specific, their definition of
mindfulness. People who know me will tell you that I am not a traditionalist
and my issue is not about secularism versus traditionalism, it is solely about
cannot be summed up in a single statement, it is too vast for that, yet that is
what has happened. Their definition is:
Mindfulness is an awareness of what
is happening in the present moment, brought about by purposefully paying
attention in a non-judgemental way.
was never meant to be a standalone practice. It was part of the three basics of
the path, namely ethics, awareness and wisdom. The above definition only covers
one of these basics of the path; awareness. A thief breaking into your house, a
solider on the battlefield about to kill someone and a person putting poison
into someone’s food are all examples of being aware of what is happening in the
present moment. All of them lack ethics and wisdom.
next gripe concerns the part that reads, ‘Paying attention in a non-judgemental
way.’ I wonder if that is even possible and I certainly think it is not
beneficial. We make judgement calls all the time, from what we wear, what we
eat, the job we do and so on. It is impossible to live without some form of
I am harming someone and I bring myself back into the present moment and I
don’t judge what I am doing, how am I going to change my behaviour?
mindfulness is going to be affective it needs to cover all three aspects of the
basics of the path and that is why I have devised a practice called AWARE. I
feel this can be a bridge between traditional and secular mindfulness.
bring yourself into the present moment by using a breathing exercise, focusing
on your senses or bringing your awareness back to your body. Once you are in
the here and now, you can start the AWARE practice.
stands for Attention, Why, Assess, Reality, Examine
bring your clear attention to what you are doing. Are you on autopilot? Are you
being led by unconscious habits, behaviour or biases? This covers the awareness
aspect of the three basics of the path.
ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing it. What is my motivation, what is my intention?’
This covers the wisdom aspect.
assess if your behaviour is beneficial. Is it ethical, is it helping me to be
the person I want to be? Is it compassionate or hurtful to myself and others?
This covers the ethics aspect.
is it based in reality? Or am I generalising, catastrophising or letting my
imagination run wild? This covers the wisdom aspect.
examine a more mindful, beneficial and compassionate way to act. A way that is
based in fact and not fantasy. A way that helps support me and others. This
covers all three aspects.
personally believe by adopting the AWARE practice once you have brought
yourself back into the present moment, you will be able to make changes to your
behaviour, you will be able to change and grow. That, I feel, is the whole
purpose of mindfulness. So, now let’s look at the four foundations.
The four foundation practices of
mindfulness are of being aware of our bodies, of our feelings, of our minds and
of our mental states.
The purpose of these practices is to
get to know ourselves better. It will help us understand what is working for us
and what isn’t. This will allow us to change more effectively and positively.
The first practice is for the body.
We need to be aware of our body and all the actions carried out by it. But we do not need to see it as
‘my’ body. If we think of it as ‘my’ body, it could lead to attachment
and give us a false sense of identity. Reflect on the time and effort we spend
on this body just to look good. Imagine how much money is spent each year on
plastic surgery and beauty products. It would appear we are completely obsessed
with our bodies. We might be mindful of how the body looks but very rarely
spend time on observing the actions it carries out.
There are many ways of contemplating
the body, but a simple and effective one is doing a full body scan. You can
find guided body scan meditations on my website.
In today’s world, we always seem to
be running from pillar to post, so this meditation will help you get back in
tune with the body and calm your mind at the same time. I am sure you will be
surprised at how much tension you are carrying around with you and what
different sensations you have in various parts of the body.
The full body scan is one of my
favourite practices and I am always surprised at the sensations I am carrying
around. Over the years I have noticed certain sensations correspond to
different emotions and experiences. When I was young, I started to have asthma
and I noticed that 10 to 15 minutes before an attack I would start to get an
itching sensation under my chin. This gave me ample time to take my tablet and
prevent the attack from taking hold. Many sensations in the body are there for
a reason, but unfortunately, we have lost the art of reading our bodies and
rely too much on our minds. This application of mindful awareness will bring
you back in touch with your body.
As we become more in touch with our
bodies you may ask how can we integrate this awareness into our daily practice?
Whatever you do with the body affects you and those around you. So, this is
where a daily reflective practice will help you. Look back on the day and see
what actions you have carried out with the body. The ones that are conducive to
responsible living should be noted. This will ensure that, through repetition,
they can become spontaneous. The ones that are not conducive to living
responsibly should also be noted and a clear effort should be made to refrain
from doing them again. It is through staying mindful of our bodily actions that
we will be able to live responsibly.
Another application for mindful
awareness is feelings. Now, I am not talking about emotions here, many people
get the two mixed up. Emotions are mental states whereas feelings arise when
our senses coming into contact with something. There are three types of
feelings, namely pleasant, unpleasant and neutral. One of these three are
present during every moment of our experience. They may be strong or weak, but
they are always present.
Here are some examples of how
feelings occur. You may be walking down the street and you pass a good-looking
person; this brings up pleasant feelings. As you walk further, a dog barks at
you and unpleasant feelings arise. A bit later, you walk past a group of people
you do not know, none of them are of interest to you, so you have a neutral
If we are not mindful and leave our
feelings unchecked, pleasant feelings can lead to clinging desires, painful
feelings to hatred and neutral feelings to apathy. When paying attention to feelings, the important
thing is simply to notice them, become aware of them, without either clinging
to them or pushing them away.
Here are two ways we can mindfully
get in touch with our feelings. Firstly, during meditation, after you have
spent some time watching your breath, notice what comes into your mind and
observe what feeling is attached to that experience. Don’t try to change or
judge the feeling, just become aware of it and then let it go on its way. Then
do the same with the next object that comes into your mind. You can do this for
as long as you like and then return back to your breathing awareness. This practice helps you notice how
you feel and what’s going on with you. It also helps you to understand that a
feeling is present in every experience you have.
As with your awareness of your body
you can also review your feelings during your daily reflective practice. When
you think of an incident that happened that day, check to see what feelings it
invoked in you. Did it bring up pleasant, painful or neutral feelings? Don’t
try to control the feelings, just be mindful of them.
Being watchful of our feelings helps
us see what desires we are chasing when a pleasant feeling is present and what
is being invoked by our unpleasant feelings. We can also learn to simply
observe an experience, without getting all tangled up in it. This will help us
to form neutral responses, instead of getting attached to pleasant feelings or
repelled by unpleasant feelings.
The next area of focus is on our
minds. We can apply mindful awareness to explore deep into our minds. If I am
honest, this was always the most difficult for me to get my head around. How
can the mind look at itself? The answer that came to me is that we look at the
mind as though we are looking in a mirror. When we talk about the mind we tend to think of it as a
single thing, but it is actually a sequence of instances that arise from moment
to moment in response to the perceptions coming to us from the six senses –
things we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch and from internal mental states.
The mind is a process and cannot exist alone. So, when we look at the mind, we
are actually looking at the processing going on in the brain.
We rarely stop and spend time
observing our minds. We just let thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams come and go
unchecked. But our minds, if left unrestrained, can lead us into all kinds of
situations. So, we practice simply observing our minds. We do not engage with
what we see – we just allow it to arise and go. I understand that this is
easier said than done, but with practice, patience and effort, it is
During your meditation or a daily
reflective practice, observe your mind and see what state it is in: is it
tired, lazy, angry, happy or disturbed? Note the state, but don’t try to change
it. Ask yourself, “How is my mind at the moment?” “Is it full of desire, full
of anger, or full of ignorance. Is it present in the moment or distracted?” We
need to look at our mind in this way, and just see it as it is, not pass any
judgement or think of it as ‘my mind’.
You can also focus your awareness on the way each thought arises,
remains and then moves away. This helps us to stop blindly following one
thought after another. We gain insight and understand that we are not our
thoughts and we do not need to chase after each and every one. In fact, we
cannot find any part of our mind to identify with, it is just a constantly
Once you have learned how to
dispassionately watch your mind, whenever your mind is disturbed, you should
firstly examine it and then, with calmness, act in a proper way – a way that is
not going to harm yourself or others. Developing awareness of the mind will
help us lead a life where we are not becoming disturbed or disturbing others. We come to know the mind as it
really is – a process.
Awareness of mental states
The final application of mindfulness
is concerning mental states. A mental state is an awareness of objects that
come in contact with our senses, which occur on a moment to moment basis. As we
bring awareness to these moments of consciousness, we begin to strengthen our
ability to take mindfulness into our daily lives.
There are pleasurable mental states,
such as happiness, compassion, empathy, contentment, and painful mental states,
such as greed, apathy, anger, selfishness and so on.
We are not looking to oppose these
mental states, but just become aware of them, acknowledge them, learn from them
and let them go. There are several ways of letting the mental states go and
here are the ones that have worked for me.
You can change the painful into a pleasurable,
such as replacing greed with generosity or hatefulness with compassion.
Thinking of the consequences of the painful mindset can be another way of
letting go. If we understand that this mindset is leading us down a wrong path,
we should not follow it. We could for example bring to mind the insight that
all things that arise are impermanent, the painful mental factor is not going
to last, so just let it go. All of these practices are not easy, but they are
doable, it just takes effort.
We should also look to reflect on
mental factors and here is a suggested practice.
comfortably and place your awareness on your breath.
mental state arises, and it will, if it is strong enough to disrupt your focus
on the breath, rest your awareness in that new state, allowing yourself to be
aware of what the state is, such as joyful mind or angry mind, fearful mind or
contented mind, until it naturally subsides. If the mental state is strong,
notice what it feels like in the body. Is there tightness,
discomfort, pain? Where is it located?
Now look at
the consequences of this mental state. Will it lead to a sense of peace in your
life or lead to more difficulty?
mental state arises and is strong enough to hold your attention, continue to
practice with it. If one doesn’t, then return to watching your breath until
your meditation session has finished.
This brings us to the end of the four foundations of mindfulness. If we are going to be mindful and live a responsible life, we have to be fully aware of, but not tangled up in, our bodies, our feelings, our minds and our mental states. By being mindful, we will be able to take full responsibility for all of our actions. This will ensure that our minds become calmer and we spend more time in the present moment, not being tossed backwards and forwards from past to future. Being mindful means being conscious of every thought, feeling, emotion and action. Repeatedly during the day, take a few moments to bring mindful awareness to your breath, body sensations, mind, feelings and mental states. Then use the AWARE practice as this is a good way of helping yourself to settle down into the present moment and to expand your formal meditation practices into your everyday life.
You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.
If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.