Experience and the literature inform us that transitions or changes in life are inevitable. Coaches need to convey that message to all clients who experience difficulties and clearly explain to them that people can fight changes, flee from them or preferably accept that they need to prepare for and adapt to the changes in some way.

It is certainly important to have confidence in being able to plan for and adapt to change, by having skills and knowledge that one knows will work, by building resilience and the emotional strength to problem solve and make decisions. Coaches work with clients to help them become proactive rather than reactive to change. It means that the clients are in charge, by creating and welcoming a change, not becoming a victim of transition.

Below are some tips how to help clients cope with change.

Anticipation of change – identifying factors leading to change and planning for change requires flexibility of mind, not rigidity. Davey (1992, cited in Dadds, Seinen, Roth & Harnett’s, 2000, 15) stated: “Outcome expectancy models of anxiety postulate that humans develop an expectation of outcome based on a variety of sources of information and existing beliefs…Hence, existing beliefs in highly anxious persons tend to lead to an overestimation of threat and an underestimation of coping resources.” Having a clearer informed knowledge of change and what it may really entail can help to prevent exaggeration of the nature and consequences of change or transition.

Maintenance of friendships and social networks – to maintain or develop new interests and activities will stop your clients from stagnating. They might accept new challenges armed with confidence, skills and knowledge.

Physical and emotional health care – The strength of body and mind is necessary to meet the challenges involved in change or transition. Regular exercise, a good balanced and nutritious diet, quality sleep and relaxation and limiting stimulates like alcohol, coffee and other substances will help a person to feel energised and able to cope with stress.

Use of relaxation techniques – since stress is a natural part of life and adapting to change is stressful, learning how to relax a body and mind can be helpful. Activities such as yoga, tai chi, qigong (Lin, 2000), listening to relaxing music or relaxation tapes (from local bookstores or libraries), going for a bush walk or a walk along the beach, meditation, developing breathing techniques for relaxation and so on are some ways in which to cope with stress and restore harmony and balance. Music therapy is a well-established form of counselling that may, like drama therapy also be useful at least for reducing stress and anxiety relating to change (Bright, 2002).

Keeping an open mind – It is about staying objective and avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly without understanding the nature of change and its consequences. Your client may well like the change when at first it didn’t look too inviting.

Gather information for learning – fear of the unknown can be a great source for cultivating a cycle of distress and ignorance. Change or transition can foster uncertainty for many people. By understanding how change works and what the change may entail builds clients’ confidence to adapt to change. You could advise your client to do some research on the internet or go to their local library and study what change may bring. Being prepared and having some knowledge can reduce the uncertainty and the fear of the unknown that drives anxiety and stress.

Gradually building the changes (or ‘limit the pace of change’) – trying to tackle big changes all at once is a recipe for failure – it is just too stressful and consuming of your clients’ time and energy. It is easier to tackle and adjust to smaller changes at a time so that the clients can have control over what they understand and how they deal with the change. Trying to tackle and adjust to big changes may become too overwhelming and they may end up becoming too stressed and develop depression or anxiety if they fail.

Talk to a coach/counsellor – Suggest to your clients to be specific about their worries or concerns with you because it gives them the best chance of being clear about what they are going through and how best to help them. Being mutually open and cooperative can help to solve lots of problems and issues, and gives them a sense of ‘well I’m not doing this all on my own’.

A support group – Experience can be a great teacher. Other people who have experienced transition or change may be able to share their story or stories with you. The purpose of a support group is to assist with understanding and to support one another as they try to cope with change.

Sense of humour – we know that life should not be all doom and gloom. We all have the capacity to laugh and find humour in the craziest of things. Change can be stressful so having a sense of humour can break down the seriousness a bit and make change look not so daunting or tough. Humour is good for body and mind as it releases pent up energy and reduces the build-up of cortisol that is released during stress, especially chronic levels of stress where high levels of cortisol can be damaging to the body and brain and to fighting off infections and wound healing.

Journaling and an exercise – either a daily or weekly diary or journal book can be useful for helping people to cope with change. What sort of things would a client write? Well for one thing change often causes self-doubts and stress as fear of the unknown or uncertainty is a normal part of being human. Uncomfortable feelings and emotions can often arise and this can affect a person’s activities, relationships with others and behaviour and thinking.

At the severe end of the scale one could become overwhelmed by a change or a transition such as having a baby, losing a job, being separated or divorced, experiencing a major illness or a change in one’s body and psychological state (e.g., puberty, menopause, middle age crisis). The idea of resilience is to ensure that clients have the resources and support systems that will prevent such a situation from eventuating.

A journal can be as simple as writing down thoughts and activities each day including how they feel about them. In CBT a journal or diary could outline positive and negative experiences, promoting where possible the positive experiences, feelings and emotions so that resilience is constantly being built up, and memory and effective habits can be formed rather than ineffective options. Reflection of experiences is an important part of interpreting the story or points in the journal.

Exercise

  • Some questions that you might ask your clients could include the following:
  • Do you feel that you are able to deal with smaller aspects of a change that is confronting you?
  • If so what sort of resources and assistance do you need to do this?
  • How do you maintain some quality of life each day so that the change does not overwhelm your life and those of others around you?
  • How do you relax in the face of stress?
  • How is your relationship with friends and those you love affected by the change?
  • Are you able to communicate your feelings and concerns to them?
  • How could you improve communication in terms of content and relationship aspects?
  • Who can you go to for help and support? If you have sought support what was the outcome?
  • Do you think that a change or dealing with a change today has been beneficial or not? Perhaps rate the benefit or not on a scale of 1-5 where 0 = “No benefit”; 3 = “Moderate Benefit”; and 5 “High Benefit”.

By reflecting on these sorts of questions when writing daily experiences, transition and your client’s reaction to change can be mapped and progress of coping with change discussed at the coaching session.