Here are 8 tips to help you survive (and perhaps even thrive) during these transitional times in life.
Understand Life’s Major Transitions
Some changes are part of a natural progression (like graduating school and joining the workforce). Others are positive and by choice (getting married, having children, or retiring). And then other changes are unexpected and unwanted (like losing a job, getting a divorce, dealing with a death, or having major health issues).
Prepare In Advance (when possible)
Over the course of a lifetime, a person can expect to experience most of these transitions. So, when possible, it’s ideal to be able to prepare emotionally and mentally in advance. This can help alleviate as much stress as possible, help avoid any downward spirals of negativity, and help make the impact on your personal and professional life as minimal as possible. The risk of not preparing for impending change is that it can lead to fear and overwhelm. For example, a woman getting a divorce after 30 years of marriage can be paralyzed at the thought of having to be the sole income provider or manage her own finances. So, rather than working to find solutions to these fears, the danger is that this worry becomes all-consuming.
Accept The Change
Fighting change and doggedly hanging on to the past is a surefire way of making major change as hard as possible on yourself. And while having a difficult time letting go is natural, staying in the past will just prolong the adjustment period and cause more suffering. Ultimately you want to focus on getting through the current change and then creating a positive future. But, for that to happen, you must first accept the reality that the life you knew is no longer the reality.
Expect To Feel Strong Emotions
Whenever we move forward we leave something behind, and this creates some degree of grief. And if the change is unexpected and unwanted, like a death of a loved one, a sudden layoff, or an unwanted breakup, the grief will be stronger. This can lead to depression and anxiety. The comfort zone you’ve known is no longer accessible. The unknown ahead can cause worry. The key is to know these emotions are coming and that they’re normal. Don’t fight them. Instead, acknowledge them and let them have their place.
Find Time For Yourself And For Reflection
Periods of change are when it’s most important to take stock of your life and to assess how you’re feeling about everything. Self-reflection can help you identify your main sources of challenge and worry, and to see other sides of the situation. Taking time for reflection will also help you to act mindfully and with intention as you take your next steps. You might consider journaling, meditating, exercising, or even speaking with a therapist. Whatever strategy you select, be sure to give yourself some time and space for reflection.
This period of change, however daunting it may seem, can be looked at as a wonderful opportunity. When everything seems to be up in the air and your old comfort-patterns are interrupted, you’re actually most malleable to change. Try to cultivate a positive outlook. Try to see opportunities for growth. Consider how to “make-over” your life and build new habits and patterns. This change could actually present a unique opportunity to re-create yourself!
Have Realistic Timeframes And Expectations
While transitions can absolutely be great opportunities for growth and opportunity, it’s also important to give yourself reasonable expectations. Don’t expect that you’re going to have a full social circle the first month in a new town. Don’t expect to feel fully confident in your new job the first week. Be patient. Simply try to make progress each day.
It’s tough to do anything on our own…and that’s especially true when it comes to major life transitions. Seek out a friend or relative who has successfully made the transition you’re making. Lean on friends and family for emotional support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And, of course, it’s always wise to seek out the help of a professional therapist.
Transitions are uniquely challenging times. We’re moving from the known to the unknown. We’re stepping out of our comfort zone. And while every situation is different, if you can follow the tips above, you can more successfully navigate this transition in your life!
My name is Amanda Itzkoff, MD. I am a New York City based Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
For additional information about major life transitions, or any other mental health issues, please feel free to email our office at Amanda.Itzkoff@gmail.com. To schedule an appointment, call our offices at 917-609-4990.