Life is full of changes — many of them hard to deal with. How can we understand and cope with the stress of life’s transitions?
What Is a Life Transition?
A life transition is any change or adjustment that impacts your life in a significant way. We all experience transitions throughout our lives — big and small, planned and unplanned.
Transitions may be centered around something exciting, such as starting a new job or an addition to your family. They can also be prompted by distressing situations, such as the loss of a loved one or the onset of a pandemic. Transitions can involve exciting changes, distressing ones, or even just milestones. For example, many people struggle with changes such as turning 40, retiring, or becoming a parent.
Why Are Life Transitions Challenging?
Life transitions (even the exciting ones) can be challenging for several reasons.
- Change: A life transition represents a change from what we were accustomed to previously. Even if we would call this a “good” change, the process of getting adjusted to a new routine can be effortful. Consider the example of moving to a new town or city. This may be an exciting change that you are looking forward to, but as you make this transition, you’ll need to learn things like a new route to get to work, what grocery stores have the best produce, or where you can go for an evening walk. The process of learning new routines involves more energy and effort than we typically devote to everyday tasks.
- Increased stress: In response to a life transition, people experience different types of stress. Sometimes people experience eustress, a form of stress that helps you feel motivated to take on challenges and make forward progress. However, stress that continues for an extended period of time can negatively impact you emotionally, physically, and mentally. This makes a transition even more difficult to navigate.
- Unexpected transitions: Transitions that happen unexpectedly and have a direct impact on our daily lives can be very challenging to cope with. For example, accidents, job loss, and pandemics can happen without much warning. Ultimately, when we are caught off guard by a life transition, it is challenging to navigate because we haven’t had the chance to prepare.
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Tips for Dealing with Transitions:
- Prepare (when you can). When possible, try to prepare for your transition. This may involve outlining a plan for the logistics of your transition — or just setting a helpful mindset.
- Set reasonable expectations. Unmet expectations can create frustration or stress. If you expect that navigating a transition will just be “a breeze,” and it doesn’t work out that way, you may find yourself feeling disappointed. Instead, try to set the reasonable expectation that you will likely feel stressed and overwhelmed at times. It’s also helpful to remember that feeling stressed during transitions is completely normal!
- Develop a routine. Establishing a routine can help you adjust to a transition. Consider creating morning and evening routines to facilitate a sense of consistency. Regular sleep and wake times, a daily walk, meditation, or intention-setting for the day can be great additions to your routine.
- Check your self-talk. What types of things are you saying to yourself? Are these internal comments helping you cope with this transition or making the transition more challenging? One way to develop helpful self-talk is to recall transitions (or other difficult situations) you’ve successfully coped with before; they can be a reminder that you can manage this too!
- Set small goals. Instead of trying to fully resolve everything related to your transition, set small feasible goals to take on one at a time. Ask yourself, “What is one small thing I can do right now?” This may include things like contacting a broker about a new apartment, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or responding to a text from a friend.
- Stay connected. Social support is critical during times of transition. Chatting with a family member or friend can be a way to help your transition feel less lonely.
- Practice self-compassion. Change is difficult. The reality is that you aren’t always going to navigate life transitions perfectly. While these recommendations can be useful in making transitions a bit easier, it is important to also be kind and compassionate to yourself during this time. Not sure how to do this? Ask yourself, “If my best friend was in this situation, what would I say to them to be supportive?” Then offer that same statement to yourself. If you aren’t sure what you would say, then try this: “It’s okay to feel overwhelmed or stressed when navigating a change in life. I’m just going to do the best I can in this moment.”
When to Seek Help
We all experience life transitions, and some are harder than others. If you find yourself experiencing a high degree of distress during a life transition that is significantly impacting your mood, ability to work, social interactions, or any other important life area you may benefit from a consultation with a therapist.
Life transitions can be challenging to navigate, but the above tips can help make the process easier. If you think you would benefit from professional assistance coping with a life transition, feel free to contact our practice today!