‘The only constant is change’ is a statement that portrays how life and everything in it is subject to transformation. Learning how to adapt is key to your overall wellbeing.

Change is all around us. Some change is fixed, like the shift of one season to another, while other change is evolutionary and progressive, tossing new circumstances our way as time goes on.

It’s natural to dislike change — it often requires you to come out from a zone of comfort and security. But adaptability, the process of reinventing your behaviour, thoughts, and emotions, can be a key protective feature in mental health.

Change Is The Only Constant: Meaning

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed that the natural world was in a constant state of movement. People age, develop habits and move environments. You can’t step into the same river twice — even rocks were subject to changes by the elements over time.

He called this universal law of change “Logos,” and tied it to three central beliefs known as his flux doctrine:

  • Everything undergoes constant change.
  • There’s unification of opposites (the opposite of something can only exist because of change in the original).
  • Everything exists and doesn’t exist at the same time (matter can change forms so that the object no longer exists, but the original substance does).

The irony in all of this, as his statement implies, is that the only thing that will never change is the presence of change itself.

How To Embrace Change And Cultivate Adaptability

You don’t have to love change to be able to embrace it, and small adjustments can make change less painful in the long term.

1. Finding your people

Kate Schroeder, a licensed professional counsellor from St. Louis, Missouri, suggests finding and surrounding yourself with people who can support you through change. “The number one way to improve adaptability is to find a supportive network that you can both learn from and lean on throughout your life and the transitions that are certain to unfold,” she says.

2. Becoming self-aware

Have you ever asked yourself why change feels uncomfortable? Getting in tune with why you may resist change can be helpful, says Dr. Jenn Hardy, a licensed psychologist from Maryville, Tennessee. “When we recognise that it comes from our temperament or difficult experiences earlier in our life, then we can approach ourselves with more compassion.”

3. Acknowledging stress as a sign of change

Hardy adds that stress can make you feel as though change is impossible, but it’s often a sign it might be time. “Maybe you don’t even need to talk to someone [about your stress],” Hardy says. “You may already know the parts of your life that are in need of an adjustment. Let this be your sign to start dealing with them.”

4. Writing out the positives

“Consider the ways that change may be beneficial for you or those around you,” advises Halle M. Thomas, a licensed marriage and family therapist associate from Portland, Oregon. “It can be helpful to actually write this out as a list so that you can see it on paper.”

What Happens When You Can’t Adapt To Change?

Adaptability can be an important predictor of resilience in life. 2022 research shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, some people were unable to adapt to lockdown. This was linked to higher levels of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Being unable to accept change can have serious implications for a person’s relationship to themselves and those around them, Thomas says. “For those who are unable to accept change, they can find themselves feeling stuck in their life or in their relationships,” Thomas says. “At its worst, this feeling of being stuck can increase anxiety, depression, and substance use.”

Let’s Recap

Adaptability is how you modify your feelings and behaviour in the face of uncertainty. While it may not be comfortable to shift out of the known and into the unknown, change isn’t going away just because you’re resistant to it. As Heraclitus once said, the only constant in life is change.

If you experience difficulty adapting to change, remember that you’re not alone. If you find change overwhelming, you may want to talk with a mental health professional.

Last medically reviewed on December 8, 2022