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Adapting to change

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Published: 23 December 2020

University of Sunderland student smiling outside

The past eight months have taught all of us a lot; about how we live our lives, the things we value and people we care for. But perhaps the number one thing we, as a society, have learned is adaptability. 

In this article, the Health and Wellbeing team take you through how you can adapt to change in a positive way. 

Since the beginnings of human history, we have been forced to adapt to a constantly changing environment. 

Although that doesn’t make going through it ourselves now in the modern world any easier. 

Experiencing a global pandemic has forced us to learn how to move our lives online, socially, educationally and within the workplace. 

Normally, these changes happen slowly over long periods of time, helping us adjust to the ‘new normal. 

This year, however, we’ve not had that luxury. We all had to, and to some extent continue to, adapt extremely quickly. 

According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology by Dr Phillippa Lally, it takes an average of 66 days to develop a habit. 

It’s not a surprise then that many of us struggled when we had far less notice at the beginning of the first lockdown 

We’re all different. We have varying levels of coping ability, with some people adapting easily, others putting up resistance and a few even struggling to acknowledge anything needs to happen at all. 

All this simply means that change can be difficult to deal with, especially in a situation like the one we’re in. 

How we adapt 

According to careers skill site Mindtools, people tend to cope in one of two ways. We either try to ‘Escape’ or ‘Control’.  

Escape coping 

Based on avoiding the issue – you choose to avoid the hard parts of change 

Control coping 

Positive and active - You manage your feelings and actively look for support. 

The reality is that many of us adapt through a mixture of escape and control. 

How to cope 

One important thing is to remember that change is a process, and not always an easy one. It challenges the ways we think, work and spend time around people.  

Change can even affect our values, our sense of personal identity and feelings of safety. 

There are five stages to adapting to change:  

1. Shock and discomfort 

2. Anger and emotional responses 

3. Coming to terms with our new reality 

4. Accepting change and moving on 

From the first stage, it’s important to make sure you have the most accurate information available to you.  

Pay attention to reliable news sources and ask for clarity from your workplace if that applies to you. 

Having an emotional response to large change is completely natural, especially with high levels of uncertainty. 

Make sure you look for support if you’re feeling overwhelmed or need to speak about difficult emotions. 

The Health and Wellbeing team are here to give you the support and guidance you need. 

Being able to adapt to change is less about thinking of the way things used to be and more around focusing on what is new. 

That process can be slow, but it’s an important part of coping with your new normal. 

Finally, you should know that acceptance doesn’t mean forgetting or giving up on how things were in the past. 

Our skills, memories and experiences stay with us for a long time. Use them to adapt to your new reality. 

If you want to talk to someone about the issues raised in this article, book an appointment with the Health and Wellbeing team.  

Set up a one-to-one meeting through Compass, send them an email at, or call them at 0207 531 7343.