Making the Most Out of Major Life Transitions

life transition, change, coping

Ready or not, we all go through major transitions throughout our lives.  At some point we may leave home, get new jobs, leave jobs, start relationships, end relationships, have children, move, face health challenges, and let go of people we love.  Each transition comes with its own set of challenges.  By the very nature of a transition phase, we feel unsteady as stress peaks and emotions intensify.

Sometimes we seek out a transition to move us forward in life, such as a promotion or ending a toxic relationship.  Sometimes the transitions are unwelcome and seem to happen to us, such as the loss of a loved one or a physical disability.  Regardless of whether we sought out change or felt like we had no control over it, how we navigate these crucial periods of adjustment can help to ease the discomfort and create new opportunities for growth.

Accept the emotional rollercoaster.  Facing a transition means taking on a challenge, and we each have our own typical styles for dealing with challenges.  If you know that stressors usually leave you feeling sad and depressed, expect that the current transition will be much the same.  If you tend to be a worrier when stressed, accept that anxiety is likely to rise for a while.  Simply accepting the emotional aspects of working through a transition can reduce the added suffering that we can cause ourselves when we negatively judge ourselves for feeling badly.  Even positive changes, like a job promotion, comes with the stress of adjusting and emotions will naturally be complex and multi-layered.

Reflect on the chapter you are closing.  Acknowledge the loss that comes from closing a chapter in your life.  We tend to avoid grief, which tends to make it linger longer.  Saying goodbye to a part of your life, a part of yourself, is naturally painful even when you’re ready to move on.  Conversely, sometimes we feel as though we are sliding backwards rather than moving forwards.  It is important to view each chapter as an important part of our greater story.  We are always able to grow and learn.  Give yourself time and space to look backward on the lessons learned from your previous experiences.  You may want to write yourself a letter or journal about your insights and the messages you hope to carry forward.

Look forward to the chapter you are opening.  Only when you have allowed yourself time to acknowledge the loss from your previous chapter can you begin to look forward to the opportunities that may await you.  Even very difficult life transitions hold within them beautiful opportunities to gain new perspective, empathy, and confidence in your ability to overcome.  Most people report their greatest personal growth and learning came from working through the most painful, and difficult moments of their lives.  Open yourself up to the positive learning opportunities that mark your next chapter.

Take care of yourself.  Major life transitions are stressful and draining.  This is an important time to ramp up self-care and self-nurturing behavior.  It may be difficult to prioritize time and energy for self-care when you’re in the midst of juggling many demands.  But this is actually the most important time to establish these healthy routines.  Be proactive as you set aside time to rest, exercise, and have fun.

Get support.  It is tough, and often unhealthy, to try and work through a life transition on your own.  Sharing our struggle often helps up learn more and ease the suffering.  Seek out people who will be understanding, good listeners.  Take the risk of asking for help and giving others the gift of supporting you.  Depending on the type of challenge you are facing, there may be support groups available in your area or online.

Know when to get professional help.  Psychotherapy can be a powerful tool to make the most of a major life transition.  You don’t need to meet criteria for a mental health disorder to benefit from therapy.  This can be an opportunity to understand yourself better and develop skills to become the best version of yourself moving forward.  Therapy is a healthy tool for coping with stressors.  Consider reaching out for professional care if you experience any of the following:

  • Seeking better self-awareness
  • Uncertain how to avoid unhealthy patterns of the past
  • Overwhelming emotions that are hard to tolerate
  • Feeling lost or adrift
  • Mental fogginess or memory problems
  • Difficulty carrying out daily demands
  • Feeling stuck and unable to let go of the past
  • Feeling stuck and afraid to take steps toward the future
  • Lacking social support
  • Unhealthy coping behaviors such as substance use, isolating, or avoidance

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog. If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment with Dr. Smith at Linden BP call 440/250-9880.