How to deal with transitions in life

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Transitions are inevitable in life. From the moment we emerge squalling into the world to the moment we shuffle off this mortal coil, we are faced with times of growth and change.

Some changes are sudden and devastating; the death of a close friend or loved one or the sudden loss of a job. These whip through our life with the force of a hurricane, leaving grief in its wake.

Other transitions are more gradual, sneaking up on us when we’re distracted by day-to-day living. Think of slowly losing contact with an old friend and waking up one day to realise you haven’t spoken for a year or losing physical fitness during a period of inactivity and one day realising you’re no longer capable of the feats you used to perform with ease.

And then again, some transitions are eagerly anticipated; our wedding day, a promotion at work, a positive pregnancy test. These mark achievements or changes we’ve worked to bring about.

For myself, I am currently going through a couple of major transitions. I moved house, heading from the south east to the north west! And I left my job, after the stress became too much to deal with and I realised I was heading deep into burn out.

What transitions in life have you experienced?

How to cope with life transitions

When talking about dealing with life changes, we’re really talking about developing resilience. Resilience is a quality that allows us to accept and flow with changes, rather than crumble beneath the pressures and challenges they can bring.

So how do you build resilience and react in a way that makes the most of such transitions?

Understand the transition that is occurring

We often take refuge in denial about what is changing in our life. We may be reluctant to let go of old roles and old responsibilities, especially when these brought us a sense of purpose and formed part of our identity.

All change (even positive ones!) entail loss. We lose old aspects of ourself. And we lose people, places and things that have been important to us.

The first step to coping with a major transition in life is to accept what is happening. Read any information you are given, ask for updates, seek out people that have been through the thing that you are going through.

For myself, having the following information has helped me navigate the transitions that I’m experiencing:

  • My financial information: knowing how much I can spend, how long I can survive without an income, how much moving house costs has all helped me make better decisions. More than that, it’s helped me feel calmer and more in control.
  • What opportunities are out there: I’ve always been on job mailing lists and kept an eye on vacancies. That helps me know that there are other jobs out there, and that I’m qualified to do them.
A pile of boxes from moving house
Also, can I just say that not having a job while moving makes moving a lot less stressful

Accept your emotions and feelings about the change in your life

Life transitions often bring a whirlwind of emotions with them. One of the hardest things to accept are the feelings that don’t ‘fit’ with the transition. A death might bring a feeling of relief as well as sadness. A wanted promotion may bring fear and insecurity as well as excitement.

It is important to try and connect with all your emotions around a change. You could try:

  • Counselling – a trained therapist will help unpack complex emotions and help you process them.
  • Journaling – I’m a big fan of unstructured journaling, where you just free-flow your thoughts and feelings about a situation without judgement or self-censorship. The links between writing and well-being are well researched–consider this study that demonstrated that recently unemployed people who wrote about their experience were re-employed more quickly than those who didn’t.
  • Body scanning – body scanning is a way to notice physical sensations in your body that can be brought about by our emotional state. This is a 3-minute body scan technique that is ideal for beginners.
  • Talk to friends and family – it helps to talk through how we feel with a trusted friend or loved one.

Give yourself time to feel your emotions in full. Most change comes with some form of grief and mourning. Talking to friends, practising self-care and giving yourself space to remember the things that you’ve lost are all important to being able to process the feelings and move forwards.

For myself, I journal regularly, I talk to friends, and I continue to practice self-care in the form of yoga, reading, and time in nature.

Take control where you can

The serenity prayer is a classic for a reason. We cannot control everything that happens to us, and accepting the things that are out of our control (such as death and taxes) is essential.

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However, it is also important to avoid becoming passive victims of fate. Finding the areas in every transition where you do have control is key to surviving and thriving during a major life transition.

For example, you cannot force your manager to undo your redundancy, but you can undertake voluntary work, training or schooling. Small actions can not only lead you to future opportunities, but also give you a sense of purpose and identity during a time when these things may feel threatened.

You cannot turn back the wheel of time or undo a diagnosis for a chronic disease. But you can pay attention to what small things that are in your control will improve your quality of life.

When we give away responsibility for our choices, we also give away our power.

Embrace the elements of a transition that you do have control over, and use it to spur change in your own life.

It is always important to set boundaries for yourself, but these become even more important during times of transition.

Again, for myself, I have a plan to use this time out of work in a way that will be of huge value to me and my husband. Our plan is to see family in another country, and spend some significant time with them that wouldn’t be possible if we were both working.

Look for the positives

Change is often stressful, unwanted or scary. It’s important to acknowledge that even positive changes are nerve racking.

But it is during times of transition that we are able to learn new things about ourselves and grow as a person. And it is during major life transitions that we discover new opportunities that may not have been possible before.

Surviving times of change helps us build self-confidence and flexibility. We are capable of more than we know, but sometimes it takes something to shake us out of our comfort zone to remind us of how strong we are.

If you feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or depressed, take the time to challenge your thought processes. Many of us tend to ‘catastrophise’, and see only the worst outcomes. Set yourself an exercise where you consciously try and list the positive things that will come out of this transition.

You could create an action place with goals you want to achieve during this new period in your life.

As my life transitions are both things that I chose, it’s easy for me to see the positives in them. I have moved to a place that is extremely beautiful.

Autumn leaves in a park, symbolising change and transition.
Autumn is the best season

Build new habits and routines

We tend to build our habits and routines without noticing. Our office place is on the same road as a Starbucks, so we grab a coffee every afternoon. We move through our mornings on autopilot.

Habits start with a ‘cue’. And a life transition, especially one where you move house, offices or relocate in some way? This is a golden opportunity to build new habits because it offers a wealth of new cues and disrupts the old ones.

In the first few weeks in your new house or your new office try building the good habits you’ve always struggled with. Go for a run when you wake up, instead of grabbing your phone. Try an afternoon walk instead of an afternoon doughnut. Spend the first twenty minutes when you get home from work on a personal project, instead of sinking down in front of the TV.

The pandemic and the huge shift to working from home was a massive transition on a macro level. And it helped shift many old macro-level policies. Employers had to re-think things like work-from-home and flexible working policies. Employees had a chance to swap commutes for personal time.

Not everybody won. Some people found that work crept into their home life, and families in particular struggled with the demands of home schooling and working. We all had to make space for grief and mourning of what we lost.

But it also created a space for new things to appear.

Move forward, with gratitude

Gratitude is a key component of living well. It is important not to bury our negative feelings, and not all transitions are wholly positive. But you can search for the silver linings by thinking about the following:

  • What have I learned from this period of transition?
  • What resources have I been able to draw on?
  • What skills and talents have I used to manage this period?

Focus on the positives and you will be in a far stronger position mentally and emotionally. When you feel stronger and have more confidence in yourself, you’ll be able to make better decisions, as well as take advantage of new opportunities.

What life transitions have you experienced?

I would love to hear from you, and about your experiences. What transitions have you been through? What did they teach you? How did you cope?

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