Of all the things that nobody tells you about life, that you might not experience instantaneous happiness after a positive life change is perhaps the most confusing.
The truth about your psyche is this: anything that is new, even if it is good, will feel uncomfortable until it is also familiar.
Our brain works the opposite way, too, in that whatever is familiar is what we perceive to be good and comfortable, even if those behaviors, habits or relationships are actually toxic or destructive.
A lot of research shows that positive life events can actually trigger depressive episodes. This happens for a few reasons: first, a spike and then decline in mood or attitude can exacerbate stress. Second, the expectation that a positive event will eliminate all stress and bring unprecedented happiness is a destructive one, because the event rarely does that. This is why weddings, childbirth or a new job can be so incredibly stressful. On top of being a massive life change, there’s also the silent assumption that this should be a wholly positive thing, and anxiety and tension should be eliminated.
It is jarring to discover this isn’t the case.
Overall, it comes down to the simple fact that any accomplishments, achievements or life changes, no matter how positive, elicit change. Change elicits stress. This is particularly true for those who are already predisposed to anxiety and depression, because the concept of one’s comfort zone is absolutely essential to stabilizing their mood. This is also why those people can often seem overwhelmingly particular, or narrow-minded.
What are the signs of adjustment shock?
Adjustment shock can manifest as simply an increase in anxiety or irritability.
However, it is often more complex than that.
- Adjustment shock often comes across as hypervigiliance. If you make financial gains, your mind immediately shifts to what could potentially derail your progress, a big bill that could come up, or the loss of the job you just got. If you have a new, happy relationship, you could become paranoid about infidelity, or lies.
- Adjustment shock can bring to light unconscious attachments and beliefs. If you are someone who was raised to think that wealthy people are morally corrupt, you are going to resist having more money. If you wanted to be famous to be more loved, you are going to resist public success, because “famous” people are often more criticized and disliked than the average person.
- Adjustment shock can bring feelings of intense fear. This is because when we attain something we very much care about or have worked toward for a long time, our instinct can be to shield ourselves from the potential loss of it by putting up walls and desensitizing ourselves to the experience.
“We often resist most deeply the things that we want most.”
This is because of adjustment shock, though we don’t always know that’s what’s causing the resistance.
It is scary to receive everything we want, because it forces us to shift out of a survival, fear-based mindset, and into a more stabilized one. If all we are accustomed to is doing what we need to do to survive, we are then confronted with the next phases of our self-actualization.
If we are no longer worried about basic survival, our minds are free to turn to the bigger questions in life: What is our purpose? Have we lived meaningfully? Are we who we want to be?
We often think of big achievements as a “get out of life easier” card. They rarely are that. In fact, the opposite tends to happen. They level us up, force us into greater responsibilities, to think more deeply about big issues, to question ourselves and what we previously knew to be true.
Big achievements actually pressure us to become increasingly better versions of ourselves. This is a net positive for our lives, but can be just as uncomfortable as struggling was, if not more so.
How do I overcome adjustment shock?
When something very positive happens in your life, you are going to have to adjust your mindset about other things in order to create alignment and a new, more accurate and sustainable perspective.
If you have anxiety about having more money, you will need to learn how to manage it better. If you have anxiety about relationships, you will need to learn to relate to others like you never have before.
Your big, life change is going to force you to level up in every way imaginable, and the way to overcome the initial fear of stepping into the unknown is to familiarize yourself with it, to make it a part of you, one that you are certain you are prepared for, and that you deserve.