It seems that almost everyone I talk to is experiencing a transition. Some arise from an obvious change- moving, the death of a parent, taking on a new role at work, a new relationship. Others arise from the unsettled feeling that life needs to change but it isn’t clear how or why.
While a transition of any kind presents an opportunity for growth, it can also create stress. Even transitions that we identify as positive – a promotion, a promising new relationship, a new home, leaving for college – can be stressful. I recently talked with a 13 year old girl who is moving into junior high school. She is bright and confident and excited about the change. But she also expressed some anxiety about her ability to assimilate and meet new academic requirements. This was a reminder that transitions happen at any age and can be stressful.
We know the basic ways to manage stress. Eating healthy, exercising and getting a good night’s sleep are listed in every article on stress management. These are the building blocks to a lifestyle that will minimize the effects of stress. Sometimes they just aren’t enough.
I would like to offer some additional strategies that I have found to be helpful, especially during times of transition.
Keeping a Journal
Many people find that keeping a journal is a helpful practice. You don’t need a fancy book or special pen, but these can make writing more inviting. You don’t need to write every day, but you might find it helpful to do so. Writing is a safe container where you can process feelings and share your fears and hopes. It is a place to suspend judgment and be curious about your life. It can also help you to set priorities and create needed structure. A transition journal provides a guide for managing future transitions. I can honestly say that my journal has been my most trusted support during challenging transitions.
Breathing is something we take for granted. We don’t pay attention to our breathing until we find ourselves stressed and unable to catch our breath. If you develop a practice of conscious breathing before life gets too stressful it will become a habit.
There are many websites, videos and apps that will teach you breathing techniques. It is a good idea to explore different techniques and find what works best for you. Check out the video below. It is a good way to learn to regulate your breathing.
Practice Awareness, Acknowledgement and Acceptance
Transitions can be messy. I don’t know about you, but I prefer a certain amount of order and predictability in my life. A transition can turn us upside down and inside out. Just like the woman in the image you may find yourself running away from uncomfortable moments and feelings as quickly as possible. Consider what it would be like to stop resisting and accept what you are experiencing. When you stop judging your thoughts and feelings as “good” or “bad,” acknowledge and accept them, the difficult moments don’t last as long. Like breathing, this takes practice. The more you practice, the more it becomes a part of how you operate. There are still times when I try to resist my thoughts and feelings, but I now remember to stop, take a few breaths acknowledge the moment and practice acceptance.
Your transition may be one that has you juggling many moving parts. Imagine that you are someone who is working 10 hour days, has a family and is planning to move 500 miles away. And you have your house on the market with regular showings, while building a house in the new state.
Or you may be someone that has nothing on your calendar most days. You might be the person who has created a life around work and has recently retired. Your sense of purpose, friendships and routine are all related to your work. You have little that is required of you and don’t know how to fill your time.
These situations are different and both may be stressful. The people in each of these scenarios will benefit from creating some type of structure. Structure provides the framework for your day. It helps you to focus and get things done. It helps you to stay grounded. However you create structure in your life, it needs to make sense to you.
As I said earlier, transitions can turn us upside down and inside out. Having support is essential. Make a list of your supports and adjust as you move through your transition. Who are the people who will support you during this time? Family, friends, colleagues, professionals such as coaches and therapists? Don’t limit it to people, but include beliefs, things that inspire you such as books, quotes and movies, pets, time spent in nature. It may be helpful to let people know that you will ask for their support. Be clear on how they can help you and once they have agreed to support you don’t hesitate to ask.
An internet search will lead you to a wealth of additional information on the ideas in this post. You will also find additional ideas about ways to mange stress.
The next time you feel stressed, stop and take a few conscious breaths. Notice what you are experiencing without judgment. See how this helps you to move through the experience in a different way. You might jot down a few thoughts so that you can reflect on your experience later.
Note: if this is a new practice for you, don’t try it for the first time when you are overwhelmed. Start with a time when you are slightly stressed. Do this for awhile until it becomes a habit. Over time you will be able to use this strategy in more stressful moments.
I hope that you will try some of these strategies. Above all, remember to be patient and gentle with yourself.
I would love to hear from you. What has helped you to manage your stress during a transition?
When I closed my office door for the last time, there was both a sense of relief and loss. I was leaving work that I had loved for 30 years. I had no plan and no schedule and looked forward to all the things I hadn’t had time to do. I read for pleasure, walked every day and cleared out clutter. My garden looked better than it had in years. I bonded with our new dog and had more time for family and friends. Sounds great, right? For awhile, it was.
It wasn’t long before I felt restless and bored. Much of my identity was connected to my work and I hadn’t found a new identity. I lacked a sense of purpose. What I missed most was knowing that at the end of the day I had made a difference in someone else’s life.
I was fortunate to find a class that used writing as a way to work through transitions. Offered by the Therapeutic Writing Institute, www.twinstitute.net,the class was based on the book Writing Through Transitions by Leia Francisco. The writing exercises helped me to sort through my feelings of loss and sit with my discomfort at not knowing where I was going. The class helped me to understand not only my current transition, but past ones. As I became fascinated with the topic of transitions I knew that I had found the focus of my future work. I set out to learn as much as I could. I was on my way to defining my purpose.
Like most people, I thought transition was another way of saying change. It’s not. Change is the event that happens. It can be one that you choose such as moving, retirement or getting married. It can also be unexpected such as a change in health or the end of a relationship.
While change refers to the event, transition is an internal process. It’s your reaction to a change that is significant enough to affect life and functioning. The more areas of your life a transition touches, the more unsettling it can be.
A transition is not static. It is a journey, one without a clear destination and no certain time of arrival. No one sets the GPS or gives you a map with a direct route. It’s up to you to look inward and find your own map, adjusting the stops along the way.
In this post I’ll give a brief overview of the phases of transition. Future posts will provide more detail about each phase. I’ll also discuss the value of writing during a transition and provide you with some writing prompts.
William Bridges, a respected authority on transitions, identified three phases of a transition.The first is Endings. During this time of psychological letting go, you can be affected physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The second phase Bridges calls the Neutral Zone. It is the in-between time, when you are navigating the uncertainty between what was and what is yet to come.
When you finally leave the old way behind and have moved through the Neutral Zone, you’ve crossed the bridge to New Beginnings. In this phase you integrate your experience into your life. You have a new way of looking at yourself and your world.
A few key points about transitions:
It is a process
It is not linear or logical
It takes time. You cannot rush the process and need to be patient
You may be immersed in the change for some time before you start the transition process
I hope this gives you a preliminary understanding of what is involved in a transition. What transition are you experiencing right now? What are your thoughts about transitions?