“By living mindfully, you understand that there are many transitions in life. You just go through them.” – Goldie Hawn
If there is one thing that we can be sure of, it is that nothing stays the same. We all experience life transitions. Even our surroundings are in constant flux. Changing temperatures gradually shift as our seasons transition; moon phases change our tides.
We are affected by the external changes around us, as well as the ones that directly involve our specific lives; changing jobs, health issues, moving to a new location. Is it any wonder we cringe when another transition is coming our way?
One study showed that in an average year, 47% of participants experienced a significant life change. Transitions such as health decline, caregiving others and loss of a loved one are more apt to impact older people.
As would one would expect, changes in living situations, employment and relationship status are more frequently experienced by younger generations. There are a multitude of transitions we experience during our lifespan, some more stressful than others.
Life transitions don’t discriminate. None of us are immune.
Even when we choose to make changes it can be challenging to adapt, but when we are the unwitting recipient of changes we didn’t ask for, it’s downright stressful.
Common symptoms of transitional problems can include increased stress levels, temporary sleep disturbance, and increased anxiety symptoms. Generally, these issues taper off as we settle into the changes and adapt.
When the struggle to adapt to change persists and impacts quality of life, an Adjustment Disorder may be present. Adjustment Disorders are typically short in duration (under six months) but can result in a variety of changes in emotional health and behavior.
In children, Adjustment Disorder can show up as behavioral problems at home and school as well as emotional struggles. Adults typically struggle with anxiety or depressive symptoms while dealing with Adjustment Disorder, and quite often, both are present.
When dealing with transitions in life, it is important to offer ourselves patience and self-love. Often, we fail to give ourselves the same compassion we would give to a friend. We become self-critical just when we need ourselves the most. Instead of self-criticism, consider the following ideas for managing your transition-related stress:
Write yourself a letter:
Draft a letter to yourself as if you were writing a supportive letter to a friend. Remind yourself of the changes you have faced and the impact it has had on your mind and body. Write some affirming and validating remarks toward yourself in the letter, just as you would offer a friend. Read it aloud to yourself or ask a loved one to read it to you and try to allow yourself permission to validate the challenges you have faced.
There is something symbolic and rich about establishing roots and a sense of community during and after transition. Whether you are in a new area or in the same location but facing changes in your life, remember to nurture the roots that feel most meaningful. Maybe it’s spending time with loved ones, going to church or gardening; whatever will help you feel connected and supported.
Confide in someone:
One of the worst things we can do when dealing with life changes is to isolate ourselves from others. Sometimes we do need time alone to think about our circumstances, but if this morphs into full-on avoidance, be careful. Sometimes people hesitate to reach out to others because they don’t want to burden them. The reality is, everyone experiences transition and everyone struggles with it from time to time.
Friends and loved ones would love the opportunity to support you during a difficult time, but they can’t read your mind. If you don’t have loved ones to confide in, or if they can’t offer the type of support you need, it would be ideal to talk to a counselor or therapist. If your challenges are of a sensitive nature, therapy is a safe place to openly discuss your thoughts and feelings in a confidential, supportive setting.
Find a support group:
Most likely, the transition you are dealing with is similar to what others are experiencing. Perhaps there are support groups in your area you could attend in person, but if not, you can be sure to find one online. There are a million support groups online. Social media sites such as Facebook offer group support specific to a variety of needs.
If social media doesn’t feel confidential enough, consider a support group on a different site in which you can keep your identity confidential and create an online name that isn’t connected to your personal information. The main purpose is support and it is important to find a venue that feels safe.
Make meaning out of it:
So, this is more of a long-range plan, but important to keep in mind as you face life transition. Each life event we experience is part of our narrative, or life story. We can look back through the story of our lives and see what has shaped us over time. Think of a life transition as adding to your narrative.
What meaning will you take away from this situation? What will this experience contribute to your story? Has this transition built any type of resilience within you? Is there room for benefit from this transition, in spite of the difficulties?
Managing life transitions can feel very lonely. While it may be true that you are the person most affected by this transition, try to remember that so many others have experienced something similar. Reach out. Tell your story.
Allow others the honor of hearing about your difficulties. Who knows, your story may be similar to one they are carrying around quietly and wishing they could talk to someone about.
Starting the conversation about your challenges with transition may open up a world of support and validation you hadn’t even realized existed. Vulnerability is never easy but sharing your struggles may prove to be the best risk you ever took.