Productive Ways to Deal with Unexpected Changes

How many times have you heard people say: “People don’t like change”? It’s a saying that has been trotted out so many times that it’s taken as a truism; but is it true?

Our lives are constantly changing – we get older, we take on new roles and we grow and develop. We buy new things, we change our diet and eat different meals on different days and we change our clothes regularly – at least I hope we do! And there are some changes that we look forward to, such as getting married, getting a promotion, moving to a new home.

So it’s not true that “people don’t like change”, because we seek out change and variety. But the changes we mentioned above are the changes we plan for, the changes we seek out for the perceived benefits in them. These are the changes we have some measure of control over.

What people actually find difficult and don’t like are changes that are unexpected, unplanned or not desired.
The changes that are caught off balance bring a perceived loss or negative consequence, or that they feel they have no control over. Things like death of a loved one, the birth of a disabled child, the loss of a job, an incapacitating illness or accident, sudden organizational changes, a sudden financial loss or an exam failure.

So what can you do to create some resilience to changes like these? How can you productively deal with the unexpected changes in your life?

Accept that Change Happens

Change happens. This is one of the things that is guaranteed in life; nothing will stay the same and some of those changes that happen will be unexpected. Once you grasp this concept, it will make it easier to deal with change as the change won’t be unexpected. You may not have anticipated the actual change, but you will be able to accept the change as an inevitable part of life. Get yourself used to the idea that the world is not in your control and that Allah will test you with the unexpected, as He has promised:

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits…” (Surah Baqarah, 2:155)
Take a Breath

When unexpected events happen, the flight/fight/freeze reaction wants to take over. But unless the unexpected event is a potential danger, you should try to make your first response to it be that you take a deep breath to calm yourself down. This will give you space to start thinking rationally about what has happened.

”…but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” (Surah Baqarah, 2:155-6)

Permit yourself a Short Grief Period

Give yourself some time to grieve over your loss, whether that’s a physical loss or the loss of stability, familiarity or perceived control. Active grieving releases stress for some people and it will improve the quality of your thinking. Cut yourself some slack and don’t push yourself too hard, but don’t let yourself wallow in your grief. And limit the number of people you share it with any depth to those close to you, as this will make it easier to move on and become productive sooner.

Look for the Constants

Instead of focussing on the unexpected event, take time to take stock of the constants in your life; the things that you have that you really value. Sometimes you can focus so much on your disappointment that you don’t see the blessings you have, the resources and skills Allah has blessed you with and the people you have around you. Show your appreciation for what you have. Spend some quality time with the people you care about and who also care about you.

Resist the Temptation to Look Back

At times like this, it’s very tempting to look back and wonder what you could have done differently to avoid being in this position. You can’t change the past; it’s over and done with. You may take some time to learn lessons from the past, but it’s now time to look forward, not back:

The Prophet(pbuh) said: “If any adversity comes to you do not say: ‘If I had only acted in such-and-such a way, it would have been such-and-such;’ but instead, say: ‘Allah has decreed (it) and what He willed, He has done,’ for verily,‘if’ opens the way for the work of Satan.” (Sahih Muslim)
Look for the Purpose

Instead of focussing on the negative aspects of the change, look for the positives. Look for the lessons that Allah wanted you to learn from this event and what opportunities He has opened up for you now that you might not otherwise have had. And reflect on this verse:

“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” (Surah Baqarah, 2: 216)

It may be difficult to do this initially, as sometimes change brings huge challenges, and it’s difficult initially to imagine a purpose for it happening. It may be difficult to see it now, but insha Allah, in time the purpose will be revealed.

Focus on Your Goals

This is where having a strong long-term goal really helps. It may sound strange when you are maybe facing a huge disappointment and your hoped-for outcome hasn’t been granted, but maybe your plan wasn’t the best way for you to reach your goal. Maybe Allah has a better plan for you, or a different path that He wants to you to take to reach your goal. If you know the end point of your journey, what you really want to achieve from life, this is a wonderful opportunity to explore other possible paths to get there.

Consider Your Options

Your initial emotion is likely to be shock and maybe disbelief and this may turn to anger and possibly resistance, which could lead to irrational responses. Take some time out to consider the possible consequences of what has happened and what your options are to deal with them. There are very few things that need an immediate reaction, so make the most of that time to plan what you’ll do. If you have difficulty doing that, turn to the Qur’an, the Sunnah and the examples of the companions for inspiration.
Take Action

Once you’ve given yourself some time to grieve, you’ve discovered some blessings in your new situation and you’ve considered your options, it’s time to act. Even if it’s only one small baby-step towards your new path to your goal, force yourself to take that one step. The first step will be the hardest step to take, but once you’ve taken that one, the others will be easier. Go on! Give it a go! Ask for help if you need it, but just take that step!

“And We will surely test you until We make evident those who strive among you and the patient, and We will test your affairs.” (Surah Muhammad, 47:31)

May Allah grant us all the patience to persevere over hardship. Ameen.

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