How to Cope with Life Transitions
Updated: Nov 17
Image/Enric Cruz López/Pexels
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
Transitions are hard. You may find that some transitions are tougher than others. This article goes into more depth about the types of transitions you may experience in your life and various strategies you can explore that may help you on your journey.
What are Life Transitions?
Life transitions are any kind of major changes that impact your life, routines, and relationships.
Some examples of transitions that you might go through at different points in your life are:
starting a new job
losing a job
becoming a parent
having a child
being diagnosed with an illness or disability
loss of a loved one
This is not an exhaustive list but is just a few ideas to help you start thinking about the types of changes that could impact you as you go through various life phases.
Now that you have a sense of what types of transitions you might have to grapple with, let’s shift towards looking at coping strategies to help you deal with these transitions.
How do I Cope with Major Life Changes?
Read on for some tips and ideas on how to approach major life changes.
1. Maintain an Internal Locus of Control
One way to help you feel more at ease through tough times is to turn your attention inward - focus on an internal sense of control.
What can you do to make the transition easier? Can you prepare in advance? Can you seek support from others who are able and willing to help you? Can you plan out your short-term and long-term needs and goals so you know what to prioritize first?
If you need support from a mental health professional to help you cope during these changes, are you open to reaching out to a provider for a consult, and are you committed to working together?
These are all important questions to keep in mind that can help you figure out how to move forward as you deal with the changes that have happened.
2. Adjust to and Accept Change
Transitions can affect you in different ways – you may feel joy, excitement, happiness, fear, sadness, anxiety, or other types of feelings. These emotional ups and downs are normal, especially during a constant state of change.
Accepting the fact that you might feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster at times may help you feel like you are rolling with the changes rather than resisting them. Cultivating a resilient mindset will be truly valuable at this point in your life.
3. Find the Positives
It may be hard to think about the positives but do your best to open up your mind to some of the good things you can think of about the change you are dealing with.
Could a move mean a chance to meet new people or be closer to family? Could taking on a new job allow you to redirect your time and energy towards a niche or specialty that you are passionate about? Might the loss of a loved one, as traumatic as that may be, also mean that they are relieved of their pain and suffering?
These are all sensitive issues, however, seeing a bright light through the shadows may help you feel less despondent as you work your way through a huge change.
4. Challenge “What-ifs”
The anxiety that often comes with transitions may lead you to ask “what if I made the wrong choice?”, “what if I fail?”, “what if I can’t cope?”, “what if I don’t make it through?”, etc.
Try to challenge these "what-ifs". You might notice that this helps reduce how overwhelmed you feel by the situation. Focus on what you can do to resolve the issue as this may enable you to feel more confident in your strengths and your ability to manage.
You can also draw on memories of past times when you successfully dealt with hardship or when others have commented on how well you handled a tough situation. This might just be the boost you need right now.
5. Focus on the journey -- not the destination
When you’re in the thick of it, it makes sense that you might just want to get through it and reach the outcome. However, a large part of our personal growth and development comes from what we learn as we navigate through difficult situations.
Try to attend more to the process if you can rather than the outcome. You may notice this helps to at least partly relieve your anxiety and stress and allows you to tackle challenges with a more relaxed mindset.
6. Practice Self - Care
Perhaps the most important time to practice self-care is when we have the least time or energy to do so.
Engaging in self-care activities shows that you and your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being are a priority, which helps to minimize the risk of burnout.
So, go ahead – have a warm bath, make that nutritious meal, read the book you’ve been meaning to for a long time, call up a friend you’ve wanted to reconnect with – just choose even one thing that will make a positive difference in how you feel and try it today.
Better self-care means you will be able to manage your stress better and that is very important in times of transition.
7. Prepare and Organize
What can you do to prepare and organize yourself while going through a major change?
Can you make a list of things you need to do today, this week, next week, or this month?
What items or tools might you need to manage the transition? Is there someone you know who has been through a similar transition who could offer helpful advice or tips?
There are many ways you can try to prepare and organize – assuming you are aware of the transition before it occurs and it is not an unexpected event.
If it is a surprise scenario, you can still put these strategies in place once you know what exactly you are dealing with. Test out a few of the ideas above and see if this helps even a little bit.
8. Build Your Knowledge
Just as preparing and organizing could be beneficial, so can building your knowledge.
If you find yourself dealing with something you’ve never dealt with before, where can you look to gather more information? Google or web articles? A course or webinar? Podcasts or educational videos online? A support group? A mentor? A business, organization, or professional that specializes in this particular issue?
The options are endless – you don’t have to explore all of these avenues at once but maybe pick one or a couple to see what works best for you.
9. Create Routines
Develop a morning and/or evening routine that keeps you on track with your daily responsibilities. This will make it that much easier for you to handle the curveballs that life throws your way as you work your way through a big life change.
Try to streamline what your morning looks like before work or school or caregiving duties so that you have some time for yourself before you start your day.
Think about what you can do in the evening to unwind and relax. Also, try to get to bed at a decent time so that you are getting sufficient sleep. Having a good night’s sleep can work wonders for your ability to cope with challenges and manage your anxiety or stress.
10. Lean on Your Social Supports
Consider the people in your life who you can go to for different things – practical support, emotional support, advice/guidance, a pep talk, etc. – some of these people may fill multiple roles and that’s ok.
What is important is to make a mental note of who you can lean on in times of need based on what kind of help you require at any given moment.
11. Practice Self - Compassion
Being self-compassionate is one of the most valuable things you can do when dealing with a life transition. This helps ground you and reminds you of what you are doing well and what you are capable of.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, defeated, and frustrated, try to speak kindly to yourself and think of your strengths, assets, positive qualities, and abilities – this helps you to put things in perspective and gain more confidence in approaching a major life change with a greater sense of calm.
12. Take Small Steps
It takes just one step to move forward. Keep it up. Recognize your small wins as even the little moments deserve appreciation and recognition.
13. Be Assertive
Lastly, be assertive with others if needed as you deal with a life transition. You will have limited time and energy in this period of your life and so you may need to learn how to politely but firmly say “no” to others when needed, reinforce boundaries and expectations, protect your mental health, and conserve your energy.
This is nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about but rather is an important tool to support you as you navigate major life changes.
While transitions can be very challenging, having these tips at your disposal and using one or more of them as needed can be part of your coping skills toolkit as you learn to deal with life changes.
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT
Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
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