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Finding Ease With Transition in Ever Changing Times

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Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

Key Takeaways

  • A transition is any event in life that alters your plans, your place in that plan, or your sense of purpose.
  • Transitions can be stressful, and come with feelings of fear, anxiety, and anger.
  • Coping mechanisms and self-care can help you navigate life transitions successfully.

It may be cliché, but if there’s one constant in life, it’s change. We all change as we get older and go through different seasons in life. But that change, and the transitions it brings, can be really stressful.

Kids transition from living at home to heading off to college. Women transition from motherhood to dealing with menopause. Parents transition from taking care of the kids, to being taken care of by their kids.

The entire world has been in a major transition adjusting to life with COVID-19. Life is a continual cycle of transition. People deal with it in a variety of ways.

“When we’re talking about human behavior, everything is on a spectrum. But some of those emotions [dealing with transition] could be fear, uncertainty, anger; maybe people regress if they’re forced into a transition,” states Kyra Ross, MSEd, MHC, Associate Therapist, Kathryn Grooms & Associates Psychotherapy. “If you don’t have the coping mechanisms, the skill, or the social support to help you through these transitions, it can be completely crushing,” Ross adds.

While transitions can be stressful, apprehension about the transition can even be scarier than the change itself. But by recognizing the transition period you’re in, understanding why it’s challenging for you, and having coping mechanisms to get through it, you can learn to successfully navigate the various transitions in your life.

The Mental Impact of Transitions

We don’t always initiate our life transitions; in fact, most of them happen to us, and we’re left to deal with the aftermath.

“A life transition is any major life event that alters our sense of self, our purpose, and how we go from day to day. This can be a move, a milestone, a loss of life, a new life, a joining of lives, and everything in between,” says Jennifer Katzenstein, PhD, ABPP-CN, Director, Psychology, Neuropsychology, and Social Work, Co-Director Center for Behavioral Health at John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. 

While some events, like a wedding or birth, are joyous, others, like a death or sickness, are painful and more difficult to manage. 

Jennifer Katzenstein

A life transition is any major life event that alters our sense of self, our purpose, and how we go from day to day.

— Jennifer Katzenstein

Research shows that transitions in life can lead to depression and mental distress. Part of the difficulty lies in dealing with the unknown.

“[Transitions] can be a loss of an identity, [or] a loss of a season. I think why they’re stressful is because we don’t know everything about them. We don’t always know what’s going to happen in the transition,” explains Rachael Benjamin, LCSW, Director of Tribeca Maternity.

In fact, the unknown about a transition, and what it will look like, can usher in a powerful emotion: fear.

“I think fear plays one of the biggest parts, especially if we’re hiding the fear. We might be really acting in some ways that are unconscious to us. … Fear can have us act in an anxious way. Or fear may even have us act in a closed off way,” explains Benjamin. “Fear can also shut people out. We also might hide fear, like it’s not a big deal… Fear when it’s unaddressed or under-addressed, transpires in other parts of our life,” Benjamin adds.  

Experts say a lot of the mental stress during the COVID-19 pandemic has been driven by fear. It’s on a large, pervasive scale — fear of getting sick, fear of being unable to get enough food and groceries, fear of not being able to work, fear of the virus never ending. The list goes on. And just as people were relaxing a little bit with falling COVID-19 numbers of those infected, another variant reared its ugly head. The pandemic has been traumatic for some and created a separate category of fears.

“The uncertainty of COVID-19 continues to drive the stress and anxiety we are feeling. The lack of social interaction in a work/home environment can be a challenge. But going back to ‘in person’ workplaces can be stressful also, as we see the Omicron variant racing through the country,” Dr. Katzenstein says.

Being resistant to transition in life is not an option. It’s an intrinsic part of the human experience. Change happens, whether you want it or not. It may bring feelings of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. But there’s also the potential for it to come with feelings of hope, excitement, and promise. Having coping mechanisms to help you navigate the journey is key.

Practical Ways to Deal with Transition

Protecting your mental health during times of transition can make a difference in your outlook on the process. Experts say intentional self-care is a good start.

“Know you are not alone. When changes are occurring, I recommend you maintain healthy behaviors including seeking social support, getting a good night's sleep, eating healthy, and maintaining an exercise routine,” states Dr. Katzenstein.

Rachael Benjamin, LCSW

Give yourself permission to slow down in the transition...Embrace the reality that, ‘I don’t know everything. I’m going to have to feel more than I want to feel.’ Stop fighting the reality.

— Rachael Benjamin, LCSW

Being patient with yourself, and giving yourself grace during the transition, is also important.

“Give yourself permission to slow down in the transition. Transitions should not be rushed, even if they have a deadline. Embrace the reality that, ‘I don’t know everything. I’m going to have to feel more than I want to feel.’ Stop fighting the reality,” Benjamin advises. 

Additional recommendations from Mental Health America include journaling, leaning into your strengths, and focusing on the things you can control.

If you are really struggling with your situation, talking to a family member, a trusted friend, or a therapist can be extremely helpful.

Keep in mind, while stressful, transitions can also be beneficial. You may be studying a new trade, embarking on a new career, or starting a family. It can be a time of learning, growth, and even personal development.

The way you process the change makes a big difference. Your attitude can help you go from seeing the transition as stressful and painful, to joyful and hopeful.

“[Your] mindset is what gets [you] to that place. [You] have shifted the narrative from seeing change as a stressor or negative to finding the positive in the situation — finding excitement, rather than fear, in the unknown. Changing the narrative you are telling yourself can get you to this place,” Dr. Katzenstein concludes.

What This Means For You

Transitions are a constant part of life. And forging into unknown territory, without having all of the answers, can be stressful. It can cause fear and anxiety, and those are natural emotions. But recognizing the difficulty that change can bring, and putting coping mechanisms in place, can help you navigate the journey successfully. Give yourself grace.

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  1. Praharso NF, Tear MJ, Cruwys T. Stressful life transitions and wellbeing: A comparison of the stress buffering hypothesis and the social identity model of identity change. Psychiatry Res. 2017;247:265-275. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2016.11.039