How to Maintain Balance During Life Transitions

Sometimes changes bring rivers of tears, feelings of helplessness, and despair, but paradoxically, it is precisely in the transition that we build our power and our happiness. Not a power and a happiness 'external' and therefore fragile, but 'internal,' deep and stable...― Micaela Becattini

When we’re young, life transitions are fun and empowering. We go from crawling to walking, walking to running. We start with training wheels but soon no longer need them. As we age, we graduate into higher grades and become more independent.

Even though we continue to experience more transitions throughout our lifetime, we may not always feel like putting out the welcome sign as transitions involve change and leaving behind what we know and what is familiar attached to a string of losses.

Life transitions, either positive or negative, planned or unexpected, and even "happy" events like getting married, moving in with a significant other, graduating from college, a new job, moving to a new city, having a child, or retirement can cause overwhelming stress, stir up emotional turmoil (anxiety, depression, despair), and bring up questions about our ability to handle change; to adapt and to leave behind familiar ways of being in the world.

If you're gearing up for a new career, new move, or new anything and feeling overwhelmed, here are some practical strategies to help ease the stress and restore a sense of balance and wellbeing.

Slow Down. Have you noticed that the pace of life has picked up? Most likely, your heartbeat and breathing have also picked up as a response. It’s time to slow down. As simple as it may sound, slow, deep breaths are a powerful way to tell your body that everything is okay. Right now, your body is in “fight or flight mode,” as you subconsciously, and maybe even consciously, feel you are being attacked. Making time each day to be still, away from the noise and chaos, to breathe deeply and slowly, will slow down your heart rate and make you feel calm and peaceful.

Learn to identify and express your feelings. While it’s normal to try to push away feelings of fear and anxiety, you will move through them more quickly if you acknowledge them. Make them real by writing them down and talking about them with trusted friends and family members. These feelings will have less power over you if you face them and express them.

Be mindful of your inner voice. Nothing affects your stress levels like the voice inside your head. The good news is, you can construct the narrative and nudge your thinking towards resilience. Make a list of ways you’ve been resilient in your life, and consider what traits and actions might be able to see you through the current challenge. By focusing on your strengths instead of your weaknesses, you will feel more empowered to meet what lies ahead.

Embrace Uncertainty. I know; it seems utterly counterintuitive if not downright impossible. But when we surrender control and embrace the unknown, with an almost scientific curiosity about outcomes, we feel positive emotions (curiosity, wonder) instead of negative emotions (lost, out of control).

Acknowledge the Cycles of Life. Someone once said, “This too shall pass.” Life, like weather, has seasons. While you may feel stuck right now and like nothing is going the way you hoped or planned, recognize the truth, which is, this too shall pass. Transitions are just that, an uncomfortable bridge from one part of life to the next.

Take good care of yourself. Transitions are very stressful, even if they are supposed to be happy times. You may not feel well enough to participate in your normal activities. Give yourself a break and allow yourself plenty of time to recover. Ask others for help when needed. Avoid engaging in unhealthy coping skills such as alcohol and drugs. Limit the use of nicotine and caffeine. Maintain a daily routine as consistently as you can. Get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat well.

Build your support system. Seek the support of friends and family members, especially those who can listen and accept you without judgment.

When your regular support system isn’t enough, it may be time to seek the support of a mental health professional that can help to process and help explore coping strategies in a safe and supportive environment.

Fall Back on Traditions. Rites of passage have been used for thousands of years in all cultures to help people transition from one place in life to another. It’s time to call upon this ancient wisdom of our ancestors and empower ourselves.

Rites of passage put us in the driver’s seat. We can acknowledge that things MUST change because we intuitively understand that the human journey is all about facing challenges and becoming new versions of ourselves.

Life, such as it is, throws us curve balls and sadness and things that cast fear and doubt into our vision. This is natural, and no one escapes. But there ARE ways to navigate these challenges. Try these eight tips, and remember that you can always reach out to a therapist if you’d like additional help along your journey.

Netsanet Tegegn, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist in Virginia Beach who provides individualized counseling services for those who wish to create long-lasting and positive changes in their lives...

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