Tips and Techniques for Dealing With the Anxiety of Life Transitions

Fall is coming. The leaves will soon switch colors and temperatures will get cooler. Fall is a season of change, not only for Mother Nature but also for many people adjusting to life transitions, both big and small.

Some transitions are chosen such as new careers and home purchases while others are as inevitable as the start of a new school year. Some transitions are traumatic like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one. Regardless of the transition, these changes can challenge our resolve, our coping techniques and our ability to handle stress and the unknown.

One of the biggest transitions at this time of year is the return to school. Whether it is children going back to school or parents adjusting to the demands of a new schedule, the back-to-school change is a tough one.

For example, Karen’s seven-year-old son Owen is starting a new school this year. That’s a big change in itself, but Owen is a little behind academically and Karen is anxious about a potential learning issue. All of these things make back-to-school time stressful for mom, who is becoming overwhelmed and having problems dealing with everything at once. On the first day of school, Karen meets another mom who is feeling equally stressed over a similar issue. They decide to meet for coffee and soon Karen has someone to talk to and get advice from.

Children have to warm up to the demands of a new schedule, to new teachers, new classmates, more difficult homework, and possibly the rigors of a higher level sport. Working parents are also adjusting to the new routine: getting their children ready for school while simultaneously preparing themselves for the workday.

Even adults without children find themselves dealing with seasonal transitions in the fall. The carefree summer is over, vacations may have passed, family visits may be completed, and often work ramps up. Fall seems to go so fast that the holidays loom before us, and all of these life changes can challenge our determination.

Research shows that even positive transitions can be stressful and create anxiety. Ways to deal with this unease include exercise, meditation, breathing, and focusing on positive self-talk. In an article called “Tips For Managing Anxiety During Transition” on PsychCentral.com, Therese J. Borchard discusses “going from no to know,” a concept from psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D. This means breaking down negative self-talk, learning to cut ourselves some slack, and focusing on the positive. In other words, tackling the change, not just letting it happen to you.

For example, Debbie and her boyfriend recently broke up, and she is trying to go on with her life. She is bottling her emotions up inside, and although working overtime to escape her feelings, is not performing well. After a particularly hard day, she realizes that she needs to grieve and let herself feel sad and upset.

Our ability to identify our negative thoughts and the strong negative emotions they generate is critical when dealing with anxiety surrounding life transitions. After recognizing her emotions, Debbie is able to begin the healing process and return to her formerly high-level of functioning at work. Once we learn to examine those thoughts, we can see if they are accurate and constructive, and learn to change them if they’re not. This fosters more appropriate thinking and can lead to more positive emotions.

Traumatic transitions, such as unwanted divorce, loss of a job, and storm damage to a house are on a different scale than the transitions discussed in this blog. If we think of 9-11 or Hurricane Sandy we know that these types of events can have serious emotional, physical and cognitive consequences and may require more personalized in-depth advice.

However, even seasonal or more common transitions sometimes overwhelm us and seem to take on a life of their own. If we let them they can consume us. Here are some tips and techniques for dealing with the anxiety life changes can bring:

  • Accept that change happens, whether we have chosen it or not. Once we accept the change in our lives, we can use the transition as a chance to grow, learn new skills and embrace our strengths.
  • Don’t expect to get everything right on the first try. We’re human, we mess up, and we have to learn how to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. A good way to do this is to remember that sometimes the desire to do something perfectly is the enemy of doing it well.
  • Remind ourselves of past successes. Examine the evidence! We’ve all succeeded at something and have specific strengths, and we need to remember this when facing trying transitions in life.
  • Flexibility is key. Don’t be rigid in your approach to transitions. When an outcome doesn’t occur the way you think it should, don’t give up. Try to be resilient. We can’t always plan for change, but when it is possible, it can help. And if Plan A fails, it doesn’t hurt to have a Plan B.
  • Embrace your emotions. It’s ok to be sad or scared that something is ending. All transitions start with an ending, and we should acknowledge our emotions, even if they are not flattering ones.
  • Use your support system. Family and friends are a vital part of dealing with transitions; they’re there for emotional support. If necessary, look for a new support system to help you handle a big or small life change.

When something trying is going on in my own life, I often turn to my brother for advice. Once I think I have it worked out, I may say to him that I think I can see light at the end of the tunnel, and he often jokes and says, “Hopefully it’s not an oncoming train!” I think one of the ways to make sure that it is truly the “light”, the glimmer of a good solution, is to remember that you have to work at life and not just let it happen to you. Knowing how you feel, working on your emotions, making a plan, and asking for help are sure-fire ways to avoid standing in front of that oncoming train.

Remember, not everyone can handle transitions alone and there is no shame in seeking help. If you are still having problems dealing with changes in your life after speaking to family or friends, call me to schedule an appointment.

 

All material contained on this blog is for information purposes only. This information is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional psychological advice. Always consult a qualified professional prior to utilizing any of the information provided in this post.

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