11 Psychologist-Backed Tips to Conquer Your Fear of Change

If you hate change, you're not alone—here are some slow-and-steady ways to handle it.


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Sheryl Crow once sang, “A change would do you good.” Except for many of us, change can feel anything but good—it can make our palms sweat, our minds race, and wish for a time when everything was predictable. 

But change is a fact of life. Whether by choice or not, life changes are normal and happen all the time. For instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person will have 12 jobs during their lifetime. FiveThirtyEight shares that the average American moves 11.4 times. And according to The Wedding Report, around 2.5 million couples got married in 2022. And even when it’s “good” or “for the best,” the very idea of change makes many of us feel genuinely anxious, stressed, and even depressed. 

Resisting change even has an official psychological label, metathesiophobia: a fear of change so intense and persistent it keeps the person stagnant, psychologically frozen, and unable to make progress or find happiness.

“A life change that requires you to alter your lifestyle or reinvent your sense of self can be a huge undertaking,” says Peggy Loo, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist at Manhattan Therapy Collective. This can often include a mix of “bad” and “good” changes, from relationship changes (divorces, marriages, losses of loved ones) to major milestones (career changes, retirement, becoming a parent) to medical conditions that turn your world upside-down.

Carrie Ditzel, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and director of geropsychology and neuropsychology at Baker Street Behavioral Health, says that all change, even a happy change, creates stress, likening its impact to ripples on a pond after tossing in a pebble. “Usually one change in life, even if seemingly small, can create a ripple effect impacting many aspects of life and disrupt our waters,” she says. “It’s often the ripple effect of a change that we aren’t prepared for, which is the unique challenge.” 

Whether you’d like to go back to the way things were or you’re grasping for more control in the midst of change, there are ways to make these transitions more manageable and less scary. Ahead, we’ll share advice from our psychology experts, highlighting actionable tips and words of wisdom so you can (finally) train yourself to cope with change in a healthier way.

Steps to Cope With Change

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Practice acceptance.

While it might seem impossible, one of the first things you can do when change arises is to accept that it’s happening. Since change stems from “feelings of uncertainty and discomfort,” as Loo says, you may simply want to run from it.

In her own practice, Ditzel first listens to how resistant someone is to change, and they chip away at it from there. “Ultimately, we work together to gain acceptance of the change and what comes with it,” she says. We talk about perhaps not ‘liking it,’ but choosing not to fight it.” You don’t have to love it and embrace it immediately—but can you tolerate it, at least for now?  

Ditzel compares this resistance to a brick wall that’s in front of you. You can either choose to resist it or even pound your fists against it, but in the end that will only hurt you. “The other choice is to acknowledge it’s there and that the wall is a part of your life now,” she says. From here, you can work on finding ways to turn from it and move in a new direction.

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Notice your thoughts.

Meditation teachers will often tell students to “notice their thoughts,” and remove all judgment of those thoughts, while practicing mindfulness. This mindfulness-based approach can also be a useful tool if you’re suddenly dealing with change. Ditzel recommends paying attention to your thoughts without trying to change, analyze, or criticize them. Simply observe and acknowledge any thoughts you’re having: maybe you’re wishing for things to be different, ruminating over a loss, or bemoaning a lack of control. If you feel yourself running on auto-pilot as you navigate this change, tap into your thoughts to get a true sense of how you feel, even if it feels uncomfortable at times.

This exercise is also a helpful way to distance yourself from thoughts and worries. These are just thoughts you're having—they're not necessarily an accurate reflection of reality or an indication of how things will be forever. Creating a bit of distance and taking an objective observer's stance toward them can give you a sense of agency over your own mind.

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Control what you can.

Loo says that changes which feel particularly out of your control can result in stress and anxiety. To combat these feelings of worry and distress, Ditzel advises taking action and doing what you can to help the situation. “Make some plans,” she says. “Decide on some next steps or actions you can take considering the change at hand. Having some plans can increase your sense of control.”

For example, if you’ve recently suffered a job loss, as soon as you feel up to it, take action by listing your dream jobs, making an inspiration board, and talking to career mentors. If you’re dreading a child going off to college, make a point of scheduling plenty of one-on-one time before they leave the nest.

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Do your best to decrease stress.

Focus on stress management,” Ditzel says. “Revisit coping skills you’ve used before that have helped you or try some new ones.” This can include any self-care activities that prove effective for you, scheduling “me” time, and visiting a therapist to learn new skills.

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Be extremely patient.

Loo describes change as a process, not a single moment. “We tend to value outcomes more than the journey,” she explains. A journey isn’t often a short, pleasant trip—it can be long and arduous at times. Any transition will likely require plenty of patience and practice accepting that it could take a little while to settle into a new way of life.

“Remember that time is on your side,” Ditzel says. “Becoming accustomed to new things is always harder at first, but time itself will help. Notice and reflect on progress as it happens to make yourself feel better along the way.”

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Find comfort.

When everything feels out of whack and you’re totally out of sorts, Ditzel says that it can help to lean into “old and trusted routines.” 

“If one area of your life is changing and you feel unsettled, keep your focus on things that you take comfort in and can preserve to increase a sense of calm,” she suggests. This can be as simple as making a soup recipe from childhood that always brought you comfort or talking with a friend who makes you feel like the “old you.”

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Take stock of your habits.

As you go through change, watch out for any negative habits you may have developed to cope with the stress. According to Ditzel, these can be behaviors that offer “quick escapes” and “temporarily positive feelings,” but may have long-term consequences. In other words, they seem like self-care (and maybe are in moderation), but tip over into self-sabotage when indulged in excess. These can include substance use, overeating, impulsive spending, or other rash decisions, she explains. It can also include habits like isolating from friends, constant complaining, and negative thinking.

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Keep a journal.

Ditzel is a proponent of keeping a journal or simply making some notes as you tackle a change. “Tracking your thoughts and feelings, even for a short time, may help organize overwhelming thoughts and help you problem solve,” she says. “In the future, you may find benefit in reflecting how far you have come. At minimum, downloading your inner experience can release some pressure and feel relieving.”

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Shift your mindset.

Facing change often requires a mindset shift. In fact, a lot of things require a shift in mindset, because our brains are hardwired to fixate on the negative in order to survive and prepare for potential danger. 

Loo says that if you tend to focus on negative aspects of the experience, like what you have to give up or what's uncomfortable about it, you’re more likely to fear or avoid change because you lose sight of the potential benefits or openings that a change can create in your life. To replace a mindset of scarcity and negativity, Ditzel advises “putting on a new perspective.” 

“Shift your thinking and focus on what you have versus what you don’t have. We have a natural tendency to focus on things that confirm our negative thoughts or feelings. To combat this, I suggest taking purposeful time to reflect on what you are grateful for or putting a new perspective to things that focus on what you may have gained versus just the losses related to a change.” 

And remember, it’s possible to hold two feelings or experiences at once: You can be grateful for many things, but still feel uncomfortable, uncertain, and unhappy at the same time. That is perfectly OK and normal, and it's important to acknowledge both.

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Connect with others.

Loo emphasizes finding support when going through a change. “If there's one thing that every human being can relate to, it's that change is hard,” she says. “There's no reason to struggle with change on your own.” 

To avoid going it alone, talk to others and share what’s challenging you, as Ditzel says. You may find that others have gone through similar experiences and can be a source of strength and validation, sharing how they’ve coped, reassuring that things will be OK, or giving you a heads-up on what pitfalls to avoid. At the very least, finally voicing what you’ve been ruminating on inside your head to someone you trust can be an amazing release valve for pent-up tension and anxiety.

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Accept help.

Even if you’re a stubbornly independent person, some changes are just too much to take on alone. There is no shame in accepting help from others, like a partner, family member, or therapist. Actually, Ditzel says that it’s important to seek help as well. 

“Oftentimes, adjusting to change can be easier and more successful if we seek help along the way,” she says. “I often use an analogy with people struggling to accept help—think of your struggle akin to a strained muscle or injury. As your body heals, you may accept professional help like physical therapy to help it along the way. Talk therapy can serve you in an analogous way as it can help you cope more easily with a change that’s creating emotional or mental strain.” 

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