Struggling to cope with life transitions?

Coping with life transitions

No matter who we are or what we do, we will all experiences major changes on our lives. Many of these life transitions will be joyful, such as marriages, new jobs, the birth of children etc., but equally many transitions are more difficult to deal with, such as divorce, a mid-life crisis, retirement, bereavement etc. Any life transition – even physical ones such as puberty, the menopause, or major illness - will mean you have to adjust to change, and this can cause stress. If you are someone who finds it difficult to cope with too much change, this article will help.

Signs you are struggling to adjust to change

  • You feel fear
  • Your fear leads to anxiety
  • In extreme cases you may have depression
  • You feel fatigued, even exhausted
  • You have headaches
  • You can’t sleep
  • You are using drugs or drinking too much alcohol, or smoking or drinking too much caffeine
  • You are resisting change
  • You have changed your behaviour and are less sociable and amenable than you used to be
  • You feel out of control or overwhelmed

Tips for coping with transitions in life

Remember that change can be beneficial, especially those changes that offer a new start. Even positive changes can be stressful, so keep reminding yourself that this house move, this new job, or starting a family – these are all things that offer you new opportunities for growth. Regardless of what you are doing, you will have to develop new skills or find new reserves of strength. You may have to increase your own awareness of a situation – perhaps a family member has mental health issues, or has come out as gay, for example. Take the opportunity to increase your self-discovery and self-awareness.

Manage your health. Change causes stress so it is important to manage your own health. Eat well, take exercise, try and sleep. Be kind to yourself. Take time out to try and relax.

Do your homework. In some cases, you may know that a major life change will be occurring, perhaps a child leaving home, the menopause, the death of a parent or another loved one. In that case it may help you to read up on what to expect in advance. Of course everyone deals with these transitions differently, but you may not feel so unprepared and fearful if you know generally what to expect.

Again, if you know in advance that you will be going through a transition, try to limit other changes in your life. It can be difficult to avoid as one life transition often leads to another - divorce and moving house for example, or moving house and a new job. However, where you can do so, limit the amount of change you make at one time. Allow yourself to adjust to one change before embarking on another.

Don’t be afraid to open up about your fears and anxieties. Simply discussing your difficulties with another person may help you work through some of your stress. This can be a family member, a work colleague or a professional.

Recognise when you need professional help. If you are finding it exceedingly difficult to adjust to your life transition, and if your stress is out of control – perhaps you’re experiencing panic attacks, or thoughts of self-harm, then ask for professional help. There is no shame in doing so. Similarly, if on a practical level you are finding it difficult to adjust, perhaps to physical symptoms of the menopause, or of puberty, or you have been left alone after a bereavement and cannot cope with day-to-day practicalities, there will be someone who can help you.

Take back control of one thing at a time. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and out of control, just taking one small step forward can really help. You could try making a list of things that need to be done, that will help you feel more in control. Or list things that concern you. Then address one issue. Allow yourself to feel a sense of achievement. You don’t have to do everything but you can work through your challenges one at a time, at a pace that feels good for you.

Ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ It may be that the worst has happened. The only way is up from now on. If you are letting fear really get a grip, sit down with a pen and paper and consider all possible outcomes for a worst case scenario, and then take a reality check. It is unlikely ever to be as bad as your imagination lets you think.

Take time to grieve. You may be grieving following a bereavement, but equally many other transitions in life will make you feel shock and depression – losing a job, breaking up with someone, moving from your home town etc. This can result in personal turmoil and mean you’re out of your comfort zone. You need to take time to lament your loss, and don’t be afraid to do so. It is a perfectly natural and healthy response to the situation you find yourself in. Acknowledge this, give yourself time, then move on positively.

Listen to your inner voice. If your inner voice is being critical and negative, step on it. Change what that voice says. Yes, you CAN do this. Yes, you ARE beautiful. Yes, you WILL be strong. You will cope, you will succeed.

Find acceptance. Transitions in life are beyond our control and we all have to go through them. Take some time to think about other people you know. They have all had life transitions and come out the other side, you can too.

Celebrate all the positives. If you try to focus on the positive outcomes of your life transitions, this can really help. At first it may be that you struggle to see any, but there will be some of you look closely. Starting a new school, college or a new job for example will mean meeting new people. It will enliven your outlook on life and open you up to new experiences. And remember, it takes courage to deal with your new situation. Celebrate your strength!

Whatever your transition in life may be, be patient with yourself. Transition offers a unique point at which your life will change, and while it may not be comfortable or fun, you will develop new skills and attitudes and find yourself moving on. If you can do this with patience, humour and positivity, so much the better.

Good luck!

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