The only consistency in life is change. Even if we know that things won’t stay the same, we often struggle to cope with life transitions. Humans love consistency and routine, but transitions are inevitable.
So whether you’re starting a new job or moving to a new city, transitions bring with them challenges, but there are ways to navigate transitions that promote resilience and growth. There’s many ways that we can face the challenges that come with transitions with resilience and grow through the many seasons of life.
What is a major life transition?
A transition is an event that changes the course of your life, or what you thought was your life’s plan. A transition changes the course of your life in some way, it might adjust your sense of purpose and require you to get used to a new way of being.
Transitions might be unexpected like the loss of a loved one, or a career life transition. It might be something more planned and exciting like turning a milestone age, buying a house or retiring.
No matter if the transition is expected or unexpected, we’re still forced to find comfort in our new, unfamiliar reality. If a transition is unexpected, we might feel unprepared and this might exacerbate the discomfort.
How do major life transitions affect our mental health?
Most of us have set routines in our lives and, although we might occasionally find them mundane, there is comfort in the expected. Learning new routines takes more effort than we would have dedicated to set, familiar routines and so, even if the new routines are exciting – like exploring how to get to work in a new city – they still require more effort from us, and can take a toll on our mental health.
We crave certainty. In a 2016 study, participants who were told they might get an electric shock were more anxious than those who were told they were definitely getting the shock. Uncertainty caused the participants more stress than the idea of experiencing certain pain. While a lack of certainty is to some extent unavoidable during transitions, focusing on the small things you can control will bring you some comfort.
Each time we transition, we have to let go of something. No matter if we are looking forward to the change, there is still grief associated with it. Psychologist William Bridges, an expert on change and life transitions, aptly pointed out that all transitions begin with an ending and end with a beginning.
So for expected transitions, like for example starting a new job that you’re excited about, we still must let go of the previous routines, colleagues and intricacies of the old job. At the same time, during a career life transition we’re getting comfortable with the anomalies of the new job; even if the job is one you are capable of doing well, you need to learn people’s names, new systems and even things like a new route to get to work.
During a life transition, once we’ve accepted that we’ll mourn the change, our feelings may start to shift; we may start to feel excited, or perhaps anxious about the new beginning. These mixed emotions can be tricky to navigate but naming and acknowledging them will help.
An unexpected career life transition, like losing a job, or a more personal transition, like going through a divorce may lead to some unpleasant feelings, like a loss of self-esteem or feelings of abandonment. These feelings are completely normal, and by acknowledging that you are feeling them you can start to move through them.
What are some good ways of coping with life transitions?
There are a wide variety of major life transitions that we might experience, from personal to career life transitions, and plenty of ways that we can manage them. Here’s some tips:
Accept that there’s no escaping change
There’s nothing more certain than the fact that you will, at some stage, experience a major life transition. Instead of fighting the uncertainty, embrace it.
Change is difficult but fighting it only makes it more difficult. Accepting change and focusing on what we can learn from it will help you navigate through transitions.
Find the value in the transition
It’s widely accepted (and backed up by research) that we are happier when we feel that our life has meaning, or a sense of purpose. This is also the case when we are working through a major life transition.
Understanding that the transition is challenging but that you are learning from it and that you will get through it, as you have at other times in your life, will help you stop feeling anxious and start to feel empowered.
Take your time
For some transitions, finding meaning might seem out of your reach. If you’re between the end of something and the beginning of something else, acknowledge you’re in a grey area and be gentle with yourself. Transitions take time, and more difficult ones – like the loss of a loved one – are not linear.
Practice tools that build resilience
Resilience is your capacity to recover from challenging times. Looking after your emotional wellbeing is the best way to practise and build resilience.
Some ways to do this:
- Practice self-compassion: speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend in your situation.
- Be mindful: meditate at the start of your day, and take time to consciously be in the moment throughout your day.
- Cultivate a support network: stay connected to friends or ask for help from a professional.
If you’re considering a career transition, we’ve got roles available and we’d love to hear from you. Although transitioning to a new role brings challenges, you can ease the challenges of transitioning to a new job by ensuring that you’re excited about your new role and confident that the place you are going to work respects you and your skills.
At The Talk Shop we will look after your emotional and mental wellbeing, in the same way that you care for your patients. Learn more about our career opportunities on our careers page.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The Talk Shop can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment is right for you.