While many of us work to create and sustain a happy life, almost all of us experience life transitions at one time or another. Transitions throughout life include growing up and moving away from home, starting a new relationship or getting married, having a child, getting a new job, retirement, and becoming an empty-nester.
Not all life transitions are created equal in our minds. Some life transitions hold more of a negative connotation such as losing a job or going through divorce. Others may bring a celebratory vibe such as the purchase of your first home or landing your first job. And some of us experience several life transitions simultaneously. Think starting a new job in a new city, moving to a new home, starting in a new school, and all while establishing new roots for your family.
Why is this change so hard to navigate?
Consider the last time you were going through a life transition. What was the hardest part? Many times, the unknown is the answer I’ve heard from clients. It’s normal to be fearful and uncertain during life transitions. After all, humans seek comfort through doing what they know. We like stability and some predictability in our lives, careers, and relationships.
When you experience a life transition, change can be felt in many ways. In turn, this change can increase uncomfortable feelings, and lead you to want to seek the comfort you felt when life was predictable. This may look like engaging in old coping skills, good or bad, in an effort to feel better. And when we turn to old negative coping skills, we may also experience the negative consequences of those habits which can increase our distress.
Life transitions have a reputation for being stressful. Certainly, the way in which the transition unfolds matters. Some life transitions are planned and sought after, while others are unexpected or imposed upon you. Additionally, whether the change happens suddenly or more gradually can affect your level of stress as you navigate the transition.
Being in the gray
When you’re in the midst of a major life change, there’s a space in between that’s, well, gray. It’s that time when your way of life before isn’t going to be the same anymore, but you haven’t quite figured out how the future is going to be yet either.
This time can feel awkward. New and old problems may arise in this gray area, and you may feel unequipped to manage them. You may experience many emotions such as grief as you let go of parts of your past, confusion about what’s next, excitement about your future, and/or worry about what will happen.
Your mental health may be impacted by life transitions. The combination of stress, uncertainty, and a struggle to manage the change can become overwhelming. For some of us, anxiety and depression can surface. Sometimes, our relationships suffer from the stress of life transitions. Furthermore, our self-esteem and identity may be impacted by changes in our life.
Learning to Live in the Gray
When you’re experiencing a life change, it’s difficult to predict when or how it will unfold exactly. As a result, it’s important to find healthy ways to support the transition you’re going through. Here are a few tips for holding steady when you’re still in transition.
- Take perspective
Your perspective on the life transition you’re going through influences the entire experience. Reflect on how this change came about for you, and how it is impacting your feelings and thoughts about it. Also consider the bigger picture. Where are you headed as you go through this change?
2. Prioritize your mental health
Notice how you’re managing the stress that comes with a life transition. What coping skills are you using? Are you practicing self-care? How’s your mood? Identify healthy ways you can manage your mental health and put them into practice.
- Ask for help
Reach out to your friends and family to talk about the life transition you’re going through. Acknowledge your feelings. Ask others for help such as for their time, a listening ear, or make plans with a loved one to have something to look forward to.
Change Can Be Good
Life transitions can really push you out of your comfort zone, creating feelings of fear, overwhelm, and uncertainty. If this is something you relate to, consider therapy for Life Transitions, which is one of our specialties at Vitality Therapeutic Services. We believe life transitions don’t have to get the best of you. Not all change is bad. In fact, life transitions may usher in a welcomed new chapter. We’re here to help you do just that. Please contact us if you’re ready to get started.