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Managing Transitions With Finesse

Sometimes we go looking for transitions in our lives. And sometimes it comes to find us when we don’t want any changes at all. Life Transition is inevitable.

Transition periods can wreak havoc on our sense of stability.

Whether it is a transition we chose or one that is thrown at us by life circumstances, it is one of the most difficult parts of life to navigate.

At the heart of this struggle is the U word. That’s right, the Unknown.

The Unknown is at the center of a billion types of anxiety and stress. Transition can also bring about a grief reaction and feelings of depression. It can simultaneously bring feelings of joy, curiosity and wonder. It is at the center of our being. When we were a developing clump of cells in the womb, transition was our best friend. On a very basic level, our development has always relied upon it.

Transition is the best and worst thing that happens to us.

As we age, we begin to dread certain transitions. It is difficult for us to let go of our sense of control. Even though we truly don’t control very much in the scheme of things, we become accustomed to the aspects of our lives that bring routine, structure and familiarity. Chaos is not comfortable for most of us.

Transitions can feel chaotic.

Often it is easy to resort to our least healthy coping mechanisms to manage the distress. For some, it may be alcohol, drugs or overindulgence in food that are the go-to behaviors. Others may zone out in front of tv, anesthetize with video games or avoid feelings by sleeping too much. Sometimes dealing with transitions can send us into a spiral of bad choices.

If the transition is significant enough, it can even manifest in suicidal thoughts or urges for self-harm.

We don’t have to become prisoners to these stress responses. Even if a transition is miserable and uncomfortable, we can learn to manage our feelings about the transition with finesse. Does that mean we’ll suddenly learn to LOVE transition? Probably not. But being able to weather the storm and come out on the other side unscathed is a priceless skill.

How To Transition With Finesse

Keep your perspective:

When we are experiencing the emotions of transition, we are operating mostly within our emotional mind. Focus on keeping perspective during this time. Step back from the feelings of the moment and look at the larger picture of your life.

Often, taking the 30,000 foot aerial view of our lives can help with perspective and remind us of how far we have come in our journey. Remember all of those other transitions you’ve survived? This is another one and it won’t undo you, even though it may be unpleasant in many ways.

Pay attention to what you’re drawn to:

That innate, ‘give me comfort’ part of your mind is probably going haywire right now. Recognize when you are leaning toward self-comforting behaviors and pay attention to what you are drawn to. Try to observe your urges for self-comfort non-judgmentally. Self-soothing is one of the earliest and most basic skills we learn.

Over time our techniques for self-soothing may become less-than-optimal, but that doesn’t mean the underlying need is any less relevant. As you think about what you are drawn to during times of transition, ask yourself the question, “what do I really need?”

Do you need validation? Do you need to talk to a close friend? Maybe you need a hug and some time to let your feelings out in a safe space.

Sit with the feelings:

When emotions are running high, that is often when we seek to escape them. Rather than trying to elude your feelings, invite them in for tea. Sit with them. Look at them. Honor what your feelings are trying to communicate to you.

Sometimes the simple act of naming your feelings is powerful. Even if you don’t know “why” you feel a certain way, allowing the feeling to exist within you and be a temporary part of your internal landscape is important for a fully unified self. And the answers to your “why” questions may show up after you let the feelings settle.

Plan a post-transition reward:

We are like dogs, are we not? All of us respond well to a rewards system. When you are navigating the treachery of a transition, it may help to establish a reward for yourself for a future time when the transition is over.

If it is possible to set a date for that reward, terrific. Some transitions are just that cut and dry; there is a beginning, middle and end. For those less concrete transitions, consider a broader reward that can provide emotional nourishment over time. Perhaps it is a weekly massage or spa visit, or maybe a regularly scheduled day trip to a place that has deep meaning to you.

Be gentle with yourself:

You’ve heard the saying “it’s ok to not be ok”. That’s true for you, also. Struggling with transitions is universal, and you are not alone. Reach out to others and accept support. Don’t expect yourself to be unflappable.

We’re all vulnerable in the face of transition; just remember that you will get through it. All transitions are temporary, which in itself offers some ironic humor. In reality, our entire lives are one transition after another. Some we notice, others slide by without much ado.

The ultimate transition is becoming our most genuine, valued-centered and best selves. If our conscious decisions are taking us toward transitions that are guided by these principles, we can hardly go wrong.

“Change is situational.

Transition, on the other hand, is psychological. It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation or self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t take.”   -William Bridges

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