Are Transitions a Gift in Life or a Curveball?

Transitional situations are often accompanied by mixed feelings, such as feeling overwhelmed, excited, stressed and sad. It is important to note that transitional stress does not only occur during our senior years.

Transitions are an inevitable reality of life. No matter if they are planned or unexpected, or if we are young, middle-aged or in our senior years, change will occur. Change may happen as a smooth process or hit us unexpectedly, like a bolt of lightning.
Fortunately, steps can be taken to help us plan, accept and survive transitional times in life.
You may know people who advise you to welcome changes in your life, even though transitions may cause you anxiety and worry.
 Of course, there are positive parts of change. If you review your life’s many transitions, you will realize that you have survived many changes.
Your strength and resiliency may have helped you through finishing school, entering the job market, getting married, becoming an empty nester, changing jobs, retiring or losing a close friend or relative.
Every change has similarities and differences depending on the situation, timing, life stresses and responsibilities. It is helpful to reflect on the skills and steps that you have used while experiencing changes in your life. This will help you navigate the transition. Think about what emotions you experienced and remind yourself of your many strengths and skills.
Transitional situations are often accompanied by mixed feelings, such as feeling overwhelmed, excited, stressed and sad. It is important to note that transitional stress does not only occur during our senior years.
A young college graduate named Rachel was surprised that she was depressed, lonely and felt that she had no direction or meaning in her life. Even though she had a seemingly wonderful job after graduating from college, she did not understand why she felt depressed and disliked her solitary desk job.
More importantly, she didn’t know what steps to take to change her situation, which caused her to feel even more hopeless and overwhelmed.
This example is important to review. Rachel’s situation is not different than anyone else who is facing a change in his or her life that leaves them feeling overwhelmed and with no clear direction.
Rachel’s new life after college lacked purpose and structure. She did not have a schedule to follow, a fulfilling reason to get up in the morning, a group of friends or activities to attend.
She needed to start over in life and, like many other people her age and older, she needed to reflect on her strengths, interests and develop a plan to recreate her life.
She also needed to accept that this would take time as she interviewed for new jobs, met new people by joining activities and discovered what made her happy in life.
This period of limbo is one of the hardest for most people.
The fortunate part is this time period does end after taking gradual steps. Rachel did create a new life for herself by rekindling her interests in exercise, starting a new career that matched her interests and passions, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new people.
Another example is Bill, recently retired after a successful career as a sales manager. He looked forward to spending more time enjoying his hobbies and his family, especially his grandchildren, and planned to travel with his wife and friends. After retiring, Bill was able to catch up with unfinished tasks at home and initially enjoyed not needing to wake up early every day.
Unfortunately, when his list of chores was finally complete, he started to feel despondent and said that he “was not himself.” His wife’s arthritis worsened, and she was increasingly restricted from moving at her previously busy pace. He started waking up “in time for work,” but had nowhere to go. Bill did not plan ahead for his retirement and, like many people, felt that he would be very busy and happy during this much-anticipated time.
Bill found that he needed some structure in his life and, with the help of a counselor, started reviewing his interests and previous passions that he did not have time to explore while working.
He also spoke to his wife and a trusted friend, who was recently retired, about his plight. Bill decided to enroll in a few adult education classes and planned a trip with his wife that would not be too taxing for her.
His counselor pointed out that his transition would be gradual as he restructured and developed his new life. A year later, Bill has become a volunteer at a local charity and continues his adult education courses. He has met some newly retired individuals whom he spends time with and has started a routine exercise program.
Transitions are different for everyone. There are a few steps to take and recognize when faced with transitions in your life.
1. Focus on your strengths and interests.
2. Recognize that transitions are gradual and change takes time.
3. Consider planning for a transition if you have advance notice. This may involve financial planning, researching new interests and talking to others who have experienced a similar transition.
4. It is important to have a purpose in your life. Regardless of age and circumstance, this is a shared need for all people facing a transition.
5. Consider working with a coach, counselor or therapist to gain insight into your interests and develop a plan for your transition.
6. Look for a mentor or cheerleader to help you with your transition.
7. Take time to relax and reward yourself, since transitions are a stressful and challenging time in life.
8. Consider learning new skills and reinforcing developed skills.
9. Don’t make drastic changes.
10. Don’t compare yourself to others. Your experience is unique.
11. Most importantly: Be kind to yourself.
Transitions are viewed and experienced differently by each person. To some, it is an opportunity for change. To others, it is a roadblock in their lives with many deterrents. To others, it is an inevitable part of life which must be accepted.
Remember, change is a normal part of life. As Lewis Carroll wrote in the children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar … 
“I  — I hardly know, sir, just at present,” Alice replied, rather shyly, “at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” 
Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D, is a psychologist at Abramson Center.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here