When a challenging health issue happens to you or you are the carer, you end up having to go through a process to accept and navigate unwanted change. It can be tough. You may have experienced a whirl of strange and overwhelming emotions, which can feel draining.

Eventually you adjusted and life may have felt a little more balanced. But then another change due to the health issue comes along upsetting that balance. Those emotions reappear and you think, ‘Oh no! How are we going to accept and navigate unwanted change again?’

Those emotions you’re experiencing? They’re normal.

And you’re normal for experiencing them. Because you’re human. It’s documented in the psychological literature that people go through phases when a big change happens to them (Kubler-Ross, 1969). One of those phases is often referred to as acceptance.

This is a HUGE topic I could write about for a very long time and will write about it again. Today I am focusing on how acceptance crops up again as an unwanted change happens due to a challenging health issue, and how we can make the journey to acceptance less emotionally draining.

accept and navigate unwanted change

Having to accept more unwanted change. B Babcock 2017.

Change and acceptance walk together

As you continue to age, your body changes and common signs of that process may appear – arthritis, poor eyesight, etc. On top of that, a chronic condition or serious illness/injury can bring additional changes. So the cycle of acceptance starts again.

I’ll use an example of a woman who was once a coaching client (permission obtained). The story is about how she was impacted by an unwanted change in her husband’s health and how she dealt with it.

Her husband had Type 2 diabetes and lost a bit of vision in one eye as a result. So he was required by the DVLA to have his eyes examined to determine if he could still drive.

This wasn’t great news for him. He loved cars, driving and was a great driver. Recently, he had also bought himself a new car and was facing the prospect that maybe his other half would have to drive him everywhere. But she was a very out-of-practice driver, didn’t care to drive in the big city where they lived, and hadn’t even yet driven the new car.

Driving her husband everywhere was the last thing she wanted to be doing. And it was the last thing he wanted.

How did she accept these changes?

How did the wife accept getting comfortable with the prospect of driving and being relied upon for that?

And accept the probability her husband may at times get frustrated with her driving skills?

She wondered how her husband would accept any future loss of independence and a favourite activity. But was hoping it would never come to that.

She sought support in the meantime to deal with her fears around this possible change and several learnings came out of our work together.

To accept and navigate unwanted change is a journey

Their previous experience with serious health issues remind her that acceptance of change is a journey. And that journey will consist of navigating the impact of that change.

Remind yourself when you dealt with a big change previously and how you got yourself through it, whatever that change was. You can learn from previous experience to apply it to your current situation.

Notice the fears and emotions

We noticed she was holding on to a lot of fear: fear crashing her husband’s beloved car, fear of getting into an accident and hurting themselves and other people, fear of what might happen to her husband in the future. She felt an immense sadness for him too as she appreciated how much he loved cars and driving and didn’t want him to lose a favourite activity.

Focusing on fears is natural so don’t beat yourself up about it. But also keep an eye on them as you don’t want them to go unchecked and morph into something really unhelpful. So notice them, acknowledge that they are there, double check if they can be a helpful reminder of things to look out for, and check their validity by questioning them.

As for the sadness, she recognised that feeling was normal and part of the process.

Harness the fear to navigate the changes

This is where the pragmatic part of the wife kicked in and she said…

fuck it

Sometimes using fruity language may give us the impetus to move forward. B Babcock 2017

For her, using fruity language was the impetus she found to move herself forward. She decided she had to get her driving mojo back, reminded herself she once did this and so was capable of it. They made it a priority to drive and eventually she relearned to drive on the tight and busy roads where she lived.

She got her husband involved in helping her by asking him to be a second pair of eyes and give advice on reading the road and driving skills. Although at that point her husband was still able to drive, she felt better prepared for the future if she ever needed to become the driver for their family. She also felt better that she had found a way to have her husband be part of the driving even as a passenger.

When we start to accept and navigate unwanted change we have to make, we are taking control

This is the stuff that enhances our self-confidence and sense of self-worth. So look for what is in your direct control and influence to do and change (Covey, 1989), and ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ (Jeffers, 1987).

Remember self-compassion

Not everything we do may work. We may feel stupid from time to time, use fruity language and feel we can do without our current situation, beat ourselves up and take it out on others. Feelings of sadness and other strong emotions may reappear.

Remember to practice self-compassion. Like I wrote previously, when things don’t go the way you want, remind yourself that you are learning, ask yourself what specifically you are learning, and implement that learning. When strong emotions appear, spend a little time with them and this blog will tell you how to do that without them overwhelming you. Also, ensure you have support from others to talk to and to get a break from your current situation. This is all self-compassion in action.

Hug your heart. Photo by B Babcock.

Remember empathy for the other

Whether you have the illness or injury, or are the carer, being able to accept and navigate unwanted change may not be easy for either of you. So empathy for each other is so important. This involves listening to the other and being with them whilst they experience an achievement or are feeling rubbish about the situation.

Listen with the intent of being with and understanding rather than aiming to solve their issue. Let to them talk, even gently encourage them to, and if they don’t want to, let them be. Just sitting and listening intently is a powerful acknowledgement and validation of the person and what they’re experiencing. And it’s one of the greatest gifts we can give to another.

Reminding yourself of what you already know, acknowledging the fears and emotions, harnessing the fears to move into action, and practicing self-compassion and empathy can reduce the emotional struggle whilst you adjust and adapt to the change.

What’s it like for you?

What strategies have you used to accept and navigate unwanted change due to a health issue? What made it easy or difficult? Share below as what you’ve done may inspire others.

If you are living with a challenging health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support on any of the issues discussed here, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

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© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017


Covey, S.R. (1989) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. London, UK: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.

Jeffers, S. (1987) Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. London, UK: Penguin Random House UK

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