When we think about life transitions, we usually think about the big ones: puberty, leaving home, getting married, having children, children leaving home, changing jobs, the approach of middle age, divorce, moving, death of loved ones, illness, death…. But life is full of smaller transitions too.
Maybe you're transitioning to a new job or new city. Maybe you're going through a health scare.
Maybe you're finally ready to start that business you've been dreaming of, or to get in shape, or to write that book. Whatever it is, life transitions can be exciting and scary all at the same time.
We are living through an unprecedented era of global change; the climate crisis, rapid changes in technology, shifting world views— even if we don’t consciously think about them, our bodies and psyches are aware of them. How do we meet them? How do we meet transitions of all kinds?
At the same time, our contemporary, mechanized world has made us less and less aware of the natural transitions that occur around us all the time; we hardly notice transition from day to night, the waxing and waning of the moon, the seasons. We can order fresh strawberries at any time of year. But that does not make us immune to the importance and power of natural transitions.
Transition is an inevitable part of life, and it can be helpful to be aware of the different types of transitions we go through, both big and small. Understanding transitions can help us navigate them more gracefully, and even find opportunities for growth and transformation.
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What Is a Life Transition?
A life transition is any change that happens in our lives, whether it's big or small. It can be an external change, like a move or a new job, or an internal change, like a divorce, the first time you become a mother, or the death of a loved one.
Also, as stated in an article published by The New York Times, some transitions are voluntary (we leave a bad marriage, start a new business) and some are involuntary (we get laid off, get sick), but the process must be voluntary. We must choose to take the steps and go through the process of turning our fear and anxiety into renewal and growth.
Transitions can also be positive or negative. Positive transitions might include getting married, having a baby, or starting a new job. Negative transitions might include getting divorced, losing a job, or experiencing the death of a loved one.
No matter what kind of transition you're going through, it's normal to feel some degree of stress and anxiety. That's because change is scary, even if it's something we want.
For example, getting married is usually considered a positive life transition. But even getting married can come with some stressful life changes, such as planning a wedding, combining finances, and merging two households.
Negative life transitions might include the loss of a job, a divorce, the death of a loved one, or an illness. These types of transitions can be especially difficult because they often involve grief, loss, and uncertainty.
But even negative life transitions can have some positive aspects. For example, the loss of a job might give you the opportunity to pursue a different career that you're more passionate about. A divorce might allow you to end an unhappy relationship and start fresh.
No matter what kind of life transition you're going through, it's important to give yourself time to adjust. Be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel all the emotions that come up.
Why Are Life Transitions Challenging?
Life transitions are challenging because they often involve change. And as I mentioned, change can be scary and uncomfortable.
When we go through a life transition, we might not know what to expect. We might have to learn new skills or adapt to new situations. We might have to let go of things that are familiar to us, like our daily routine or our support system. And all of this can be overwhelming, and it's normal to feel some degree of stress and anxiety during this time.
In addition, life transitions often involve some degree of loss. For example, when you get divorced, you might lose your spouse, your home, and your support system. When you retire, you might lose your job, your income, and your sense of purpose. It's important to allow yourself to grieve the losses you experience during a life transition. Grief is a natural and healthy response to loss, and it's important to give yourself time to process your emotions.
The key is to remember that change is inevitable, and that life transitions are a natural part of life. Instead of resisting change, try to embrace it. And instead of seeing life transitions as a loss, try to see them as an opportunity for growth and transformation.
In fact, our very ability to grow comes from that state of change and it is through change that we can grow.
Tips for Dealing With Life Transitions:
No matter what kind of life transition you're going through, there are some things you can do to make the process easier.
Be conscious of what is happening: One of the best things you can do is to be conscious of what is happening. That means being aware of the changes that are taking place, both within you and around you. This will help you to be more prepared for the transition and to make any necessary adjustments.
Identify your support system: Another important thing you can do is to identify your support system. This might include family, friends, a therapist, or a support group. Lean on your support system for help and guidance during this time.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions: It's normal to feel a range of emotions during a life transition. Allow yourself to feel your emotions, and don't try to bottle them up. Instead, express how you're feeling in a healthy way, whether that's through journaling, talking to a friend, or seeing a therapist.
Take things one day at a time: It's also important to take things one day at a time. Don't try to do everything at once. And don't expect to heal overnight. Healing is a process, and it takes time.
Give into both surrender and control: In some ways, it's important to let go and surrender to the change that is happening. But in other ways, it's important to take control and be proactive. As one of my favorite yoga teachers said "one hand open, one hand closed". For example, if you're going through a divorce, you might need to take action to protect your finances or your relationship with your children. If you're retiring, you might need to make plans for your future. Find a balance between surrender and control, and do what feels right for you.
Write through it: Writing can be a helpful way to process your emotions and make sense of what is happening. As James Pennebaker, an American social psychologist and author of Writing to Heal said in a recent interview:
"If you've had some kind of major experience that you're not understanding or actively avoiding it keeps coming back, it comes keeps returning to your head over and over again... and what's happening is you're not processing the event, you're not finding meaning to it, you're not organizing it.
However, when you write about it, it is bringing about this structure. You now begin to understand it, you no longer have to think about it, and you are not trying to understand it anymore.
And this means you are sleeping better because you understand it now, you don't obsess about it, and we know that sleep has many health benefits.
In terms of mental health, you have greater working memory and there have been studies showing this, which means that you're not obsessing about it...and when you're not thinking about this traumatic experience you're able to focus your attention on your friend or your spouse or your kids or whatever and now you see how this relatively simple process can really help you improve your mental and physical health."—James Pennebaker
So if you're going through a life transition, try writing about your experiences. You might be surprised at how helpful it can be.
Want to try it for yourself? Here's a writing prompt to get you started:
"I'm going through a life transition because..."
And if you want to go further, try my meditation and writing prompt for working with and through life transitions.
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