How to Cope with Change and Breaking Patterns

Dr. Sharon B. Jacobs shares her insight into the psychology of making changes in your life.

Many people don’t adapt well to change. Sometimes it takes major shakeups to prompt new outlooks.

That’s the view of psychologist Sharon B. Jacobs, director of Associates in Health Psychology, and Sharon Metaxas, a licensed clinical social worker who works with her at their offices in Newark and Wilmington.  

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“Sometimes it takes a tragedy to alter a life cycle,” Jacobs says. But the challenge, Metaxas adds, is in breaking up the familiar patterns—both good and bad—that our brains have established in order to make desired changes take place. We can’t underestimate how our brains work.

It takes emotion and energy to overcome the brain’s resistance, Jacobs says. Wanting to change is the first step. The hard part comes when you actually have to do things differently.

Breaking out of established patterns requires taking risks. “If you look at motivational theory, we are drawn toward pleasure and away from pain,” says Metaxas. “Depending on what our life history is, the more pain we’ve had, the more we anticipate it.”

During a crisis, of course, pain is unavoidable, and its aftermath provides an opportunity to reassess your needs, your values and your strengths. “You’re not as afraid of the things that have caused you pain because you’ve survived this difficult situation,” Jacobs says.

Some people who’ve experienced significant loss or crises are unwilling or unable to change. Jacobs has seen people who’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer continue to smoke. Then again, people who haven’t encountered a major crisis can magnify the significance of lesser issues. They convince themselves that catastrophe looms, when it may not.

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Many of Jacobs’ patients begin therapy with an intense amount of worry or sadness. She advises them to step back and ask themselves if  devastating occurrences would really happen. More simply put, she gives them a reality check.

Stop sweating the small stuff means being aware of emotional surges that keep us from thinking clearly—then turning them down.

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