April 19, 2018

Transitions: Navigating Change Well

Anxiety & Depression
Identity Development

Transitions constant in life. From the very moment we’re born we’re in transition, moving from one developmental stage or milestone to the next. So it goes throughout the lifespan. Transitions can be large or small and come in many forms: a new relationship, a move, a new job, starting school, changing schools, changing careers, starting a family, etc. Navigating change well, however, doesn’t always come easy. Transition can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and draining. Prolonged difficulty with a transition can lead to anxiety, depression, decreased functioning in other areas of life.

It’s normal to find transitions challenging, but you can also develop skills to improve how you navigate change. How do you typically respond to transitions? It’s important to take stock of how you cope when things are changing and to determine if there are ways you want to grow. What kinds of emotions do transitions bring up for you? Transitions can feel disorienting because things aren’t like they used to be but you also haven’t figured out a “new normal.”

Change can bring up feelings of helplessness, loss of control, fear, sadness, joy, and anticipation. One factor that can affect how you respond to change includes whether the transition was expected or not. Another factor is whether the transition was a choice you made or you have to respond to circumstances outside of your control. What is it about transition that is most uncomfortable for you? Is it uncertainty or the feeling of a loss of control? Is it lack of confidence when trying something new? Is it fear of things not working out like you hoped? It’s important to ask yourself these questions so you can have a better understanding of what makes it hard for you to cope well with transition.

You might find that you have some expectations of yourself and your life that are adding to the stress. You might have unrealistic expectations about your ability to control things in your life or to keep everything together. List out these expectations and consider whether they are realistic or helpful. Then adjust them to be more realistic. For example, if you’ve started a new job recently you are going to make some mistakes and have lots of questions. Give yourself permission to figure things out. Let go of unrealistic expectations to have all the answers. In another example, if you’ve just ended a relationship give yourself time to grieve and experience the wide range of emotions that come with a loss. It takes time to find a new normal without that significant other and placing arbitrary deadlines on when you should be over a person will not help you get there.

Transitions can be hard but you can build resilience and skills to help you get through them. Identify what help you in times of transition, such as communication, clear expectations from a new boss, exercise, or a clean house. This is unique to you. One person might need a clean house in order to feel settled and calm during transitions. Another person might not be that concerned about the state of their house but knows that if they don’t get enough sleep they will not be able to face the challenges of transition. Figure out what you need and make that a priority. If necessary, share with a roommate or significant other so they can be understanding and maybe even help you keep that clean house or get to bed early.

This leads to another important resource when going through transition: social support. Sharing with trusted friends and/or family about the changes that are happening and how you are feeling can be a major source of support that gives hope and encouragement.  Whenever possible prepare for transitions. This will not always be possible but there are times when you make a decision that leads to a transition. You can prepare for it by setting in place those things you need to make the transition easier, talking with friends, and managing your expectations.

Finally, be kind to yourself in the midst of transitions. Practice self-compassion and give yourself time to figure things out. If you’re anticipating or are in the midst of a transition and want some additional support, call me today!

Written by therapist Ndunge Marquardt

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