Making it through life’s transitions
There’s one thing all humans have in common: things are constantly changing in our lives. While life transitions can vary in intensity, in feeling, and in timing, the transitions are often filled with apprehension, uncertainty, and loss. Truthfully, even good changes can be hard. Change is normal and expected in our lives, so how do we navigate it more successfully?
When I think about change, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s quote comes to mind: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” In this instance, the waves are change. From birth, there are basic life transitions we go through: going to school, moving out of the family home, starting a career, etc. How we learn to “ride the waves” is up to us. Surfers use a surfboard, so let’s talk about a few ways we can develop coping skills to help us smoothly ride the waves of life.
Here are five ways to practice coping with change:
- Understand and Validate Your Emotions
Change affects everyone differently. Your best friend or brother will experience a cross-country move differently than you; that mother in Target experienced the birth of her child differently than you. Take time to think about and process your emotions as they come. It is very likely you experience many different feelings, especially if the transition in your life was unexpected.
Human nature is to dislike uncomfortable emotions. We often minimize our feelings by saying things like “I should feel like _____, not _____,” or saying “Other people have had it way worse, so I shouldn’t complain or be this upset.” This language and thought process feels good short-term because it quiets your true feelings, but long-term these emotions are buried and will return unresolved.
I recommend being open to your feelings, sitting with them when possible. If you’re worried about sitting in your emotions for too long, try setting a timer to sit in the feeling for a predetermined amount of time. Facing these emotions will set you up for success next time. A quick way to validate yourself in the moment is to say, “I deserve to feel ____ because ____.”
- Ask for Help
Transitions are hard. Whenever you are able, I recommend seeking support from people you trust. That might not even mean your family or friends. Examine the relationships in your life and take inventory of those who hold nonjudgmental space for you. Set boundaries with that person as to what type of support you need in this transition. An example could be, “I am calling to talk about my new job, and I just need a listening ear, not any advice. Can you do that for me?”
Asking for help could be something as simple as watching a TV show with a friend or asking someone else to watch the kids. It could be reaching out to a family member, religious leader, or community entity, who can support you as you traverse this change. It can also be joining a support group or meeting with a therapist.
When we are struggling, we can forget that others understand these feelings too, that we don’t have to do it alone.
- Self-Care Matters (More Than Ever)
You probably feel busier than ever during a life transition, which can cause you to shy away from self-care at this time. However, self-care should be a top priority during this time, really any time. There’s this saying in the mental health world that says, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. This means you need time to recharge your personal batteries in order to put energy into other things. Be careful though, self-care can cause you to feel healthy and confident!
I’m also going to break a myth about self-care – it does not need to be complicated, time-consuming, or expensive. I’m not talking $500 spa days or buying that new jet-ski. Self-care can be five minutes of meditation, taking a walk with your dog, singing your favorite song in the car, getting a White Chocolate White Mocha from your favorite coffee shop (okay this is my personal recommendation), or playing a game online with friends. Setting aside time every day to do something for you will aid in these transitions and in life itself.
As we navigate transitions, it can be really helpful to set routines and rituals to create some normalcy in a new space, environment, or role. Consistency is often underrated, but important to our mental health. Sleep hygiene is one area I ask my clients to focus on when in transitions. Humans need sleep to survive, but great sleep is hard to achieve at times. Your sleep environment, afternoon and evening activities, coping behaviors, and sleep routine are all part of good sleep hygiene. Having a specific bedtime routine that limits screen time, contains rituals of getting ready for bed, and involves some self-reflection to let go of things we are holding onto from the day. Try to maintain as much consistency as possible and if needed, create new routines if your old routines are no longer serving you.
This is a great resource to learn more about sleep hygiene: click here to view.
- Strengths-Based Thoughts
Remember the times you’ve successfully navigated a previous transition. As you face a new challenge, use previous skills and experiences to tackle this new transition. You have been through many storms in life that you’ve managed to cope with and survive, so let that give you strength through this. If I circle back to my opening quote by Jon Kabat-Zinn, you’ve already learned how to surf some waves, and the waves on this side of the bay could be handled in a similar way!
Change and transition can be hard, and it is common to run and hide. I urge you to step into these changes and transitions with the above skills and ideas to build a thoughtful, yet flexible, plan to navigate that transition. Perhaps our regular surfboard is not available this time, or the waves are unusually high. Use the skills you have to navigate them as best you can, safely and confidently.
Need a little extra support during this change? Bridging Hope Counseling is happy to support you and ride along beside you as you navigate the seas of change.