Adapting to Change: How do Emotions Play a Role?

Stéphanie Villeneuve
Written by Stéphanie Villeneuve /

During our lives, we are all inevitably faced with different changes and transitions. Some changes are things we wanted and/or planned while at other times they are completely unexpected and/or unwanted. In any case, change can be destabilizing!

What is the difference between a change and a transition?

The two are often confused or used interchangeably without necessarily understanding the difference between them. Change describes a specific event that happens at a given time, while transition refers to the process someone goes through to adapt to a change.

The transition process consists of 3 unique and important steps:

The end

The neutral zone

The new beginning

The role of coping mechanisms

Whether voluntary or not, change can activate our stress coping mechanisms. I like to compare stress coping mechanisms to a safety net that allows us to be able to let ourselves experience the emotions generated by the changes/transitions we encounter. The more conscious and varied your coping mechanisms are, the safer you will feel. Conversely, when they are unconscious, limited, or overused, they can become ineffective or counter-productive... Our coping mechanisms are therefore a risk-factor when it comes to our ability to adapt.

The impact of emotions

Now let’s talk about emotions! Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe that there are positive or negative emotions; It is what we do with them that can be positive or negative. I will explain what I mean using two examples:


Laurie got a job that she had wanted for a long time, and she is very happy about it. She decides to celebrate her good news with her friends. She goes on a very expensive (too much for her budget) shopping spree for the occasion, consumes excessively during the event, and engages in risky behaviours that lead to consequences (medical, legal, or other).


Laurie was laid off from her dream job due to organisational restructuring. She experiences a lot of disappointment, frustration, and sadness. She gives herself the right not just to feel her emotions, but also to understand which needs were being met by the job. This reflection allows her to understand her current unmet needs and to take action to find a new opportunity to fulfil them.

Changes and transitions are inevitable, and so are emotions. Resistance during the transition process and repressing the emotions that are felt have the common impact of slowing down the process of change. Understanding the transition process, just like understanding our emotions, allows us to develop strategies to deal with change and facilitate our adaptation.

Stéphanie Villeneuve

Social worker, B.T.S.

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