I write this in August, a time of year I now relish as the temperature starts to moderate and daylight shortens. It wasn’t always this way. I once dreaded August because it meant that school was just around the corner. The transition of going back to school was always a hard one for me. Not because of the classes I had chosen, nor anticipation of new teachers, but having to establish a new routine and the fear and anticipation of not “fitting in.”
Through the work and studies I have done, I now fully understand from where these fears and anxieties originated, but back then I was at a loss year after year and annually filled with dread.
I won’t delve into the details of my life, but will present what types of transitions can be challenging to many and potential ways to manage in the face of change – no matter the magnitude.
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 and unplanned situations, such as the loss of a loved one or an accident.
Why Are Life Transitions Challenging?
Life transitions – even the exciting ones – can be challenging for several reasons.
- Changes take time and patience to process: Transitions represent a change from what is habitual and routine. Getting adjusted to a new routine, even one we want to assume, can be difficult and time-consuming. Learning a new routine takes more energy and effort than we typically devote to those events that are already routine and habitual.
- Changes increase stress: Stress that continues for an extended period of time – chronic stress – may negatively impact you emotionally, physically, and mentally. This makes a transition even more difficult to manage.
- Unexpected transitions may induce fear and anxiety: Transitions that happen unexpectedly have a direct impact on our daily lives. For example, car accidents or job loss can happen without much warning. Ultimately, when caught off guard, we have no time to prepare, making it challenging to navigate.
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. A client of mine visually “rehearsed” a situation before she had to face it, which helped immensely when the day of the event arrived.
- 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. I like to rehearse routines before I have to do them. Visualizing tasks or events in my head helps me to “see” myself actually performing them and eases my anxiety over the unknown.
- Note 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 that will make me feel in control?” By doing this, you can reclaim your power over a situation and see yourself as in charge and capable which can help unwind feelings of overwhelm.
- Get and 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 alone in facing challenges.
- Be kind to yourself. Change is difficult. The reality is that you aren’t always going to navigate life transitions perfectly. Be kind and compassionate to yourself during this time and allow yourself to make mistakes. 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?”
Sometimes the best thing to do is reflect on the larger goals you have set in your life and appreciate where you are in the moment. Transitions are an indication that you’ve grown past your “old” life. Reflect on what has helped you get into the swing of a new routine in the past. Find inspiration from other difficult times in your life. Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Change is a part of life. Believe that things happen for you – you get to choose – rather than things happening to you, and you’ll see your circumstances shift into a new light.