How To Navigate Big Life Transitions

Are you graduating college and entering the workforce? Did you lose your job or are entering retirement? Are you getting married or reconciling? Are you getting a marriage separation or divorce? Did you recently lose a close family member and are grieving a loss? These are all major life changes that we face in life that increase our feelings of anxiety, depression, worry, a loss of identity, and more.

Change is scary and uncomfortable, and sometimes it can lead to amazing results. As we get older we will face multiple life transitions. We can’t control when these or what life transitions we have to face are, but we can control how we react to them. Let’s look at how we can manage stress and navigate these difficult life transitions.

1. Radical Acceptance – This is one of the hardest skills to do, and if you can achieve it you will feel relief. Ask yourself, “Can I control this situation?” If yes, then do so, and if not then ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do to change the situation?” If yes, then do it. If not, then ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to make the situation better?” If yes, then make it better, if still no, then what is left is to accept the situation. However, acceptance does not mean throwing in the towel and giving up. Acceptance is accepting that these changes, no matter how overwhelming they are, are out of your control. You can ALWAYS control how you respond to the situation or transition. What can you do to make yourself feel better? Is it picking up a hobby, communicating your needs, spending time with loved ones to distract and gain support, and more.

2. Linear – With major life changes comes grief. You’re closing the chapter to one part of your life and opening the door to the next. The 5 stages of grief are denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Oftentimes we believe these stages are linear, that after you complete one stage you begin the next stage. However, that is not always the case and more often than not we navigate these transitions in loops, zig-zags, and more. It is not uncommon to jump around from a higher stage to a lower stage and vice versa. During this time, show yourself compassion, allow yourself to feel what it is you need to feel as change is scary and uncomfortable, and grief is overwhelming. Look for past life instances where you successfully navigated a major life transition to remind yourself, you’ve gone through something similar before, and you will get through this transition.

3. Look For The Silver Lining – Oftentimes, when changes in our life happen that we do not want to happen, we can only see the dark. However, without darkness, there is no light, and without light, there is no darkness. Trying to find the silver lining in the bleakest of times can help us feel better about our situation. Is there something positive that is coming from this change? Is there more time for you to engage in activities that make you feel good? Is there something for you to learn about yourself and/or the world around you that you want to learn to change or enforce in the next chapter of your life? Finding the silver lining can help you change your perspective on the transition you have to make.

4. Self-care – During major life transitions, and difficult times, we often forget to take care of ourselves or do things that bring us joy. Self-care is a process of taking care of your needs through actions and behaviors that promote overall emotional, physical, and mental well-being. We often look at self-care as having to find days to hours in our time to dedicate to it. That is not necessarily the case. Self-care can be the first 5 minutes or last 5 minutes of your day to meditating, it can be finding an hour a week to get your nails done, it can be allotting 30 minutes before bed to read, or picking 3 days a week you’ll go to the gym for an hour. Self-care does not mean traveling or taking time away from work, family, or friends. It can simply be carving out a small portion for your day or week to do one thing for you that helps you step away from the stressors of everyday life to relax and breathe. A tip to ensure this is, every Sunday look at your schedule for the week and ask yourself, when will I have time to engage in self-care, then pick that time, block it off in your calendar, and remain committed to it. Plan your meetings around it, plan your friend and family obligations around it, and be open to being flexible with changing the time or day if necessary, but do not remove self-care from your schedule.

5. Lean On Your Support Systems – When we face changes, it can be very beneficial to lean on the people we love for support, guidance, and even as a distraction. Sometimes, we don’t necessarily need advice or guidance, but we need someone to listen to us when we need to vent, someone to cry to when it gets too overwhelming, or someone to distract us when we get tired from constantly focusing on the stress of this transition. Try to call these people when needed and express what you need from them at the moment, such as “I just need to vent,” or “I need some guidance, what would you do?” Remember, people can not read our minds and don’t always know exactly what we need from them. Therefore, it is important to communicate effectively what you need and are looking for at that moment. In addition, sometimes spending time with our support systems can bring us comfort and stability during major changes and transitions that feel uncomfortable, unknown, or even unstable. Find time to be around these people to soothe your emotions.