What do all of the following have in common: Marriage, a new relationship, arrival of a baby, becoming a parent, leaving home, empty nesting, divorce, separation, recovering from infidelity, retirement, job loss, career change, financial gain, financial loss, illness, disability, aging, death, questioning sexual/gender identity, questions on faith or spirituality.
If you guessed change and transition, you are correct! Life is full of transitions. Some transitions have a more positive feeling than others, but most can leave us feeling that a shift in ourselves has occurred. Often this shift requires us to re-define our boundaries and find emotional, physical, social, occupational, intellectual, and spiritual balance.
Why do life transitions discombobulate us?
Life transitions mostly come with change. Change is discombobulating for the brain, whether it’s a positive or challenging change. Our brain tends to react to change as an alert that our environment is changing. The brain alerts us when something unknown is occurring and that a pattern different than usual is unfolding. So what do our brains do when it recognizes a change? It goes into protection mode. Although protection mode for each of us is different, statistics suggest 60-70% of our thoughts are negative and that can greatly impact how we experience a change. How can we prevent our thoughts from moving toward pessimistic predictions of change?
Again, our brain is only one part of how we make sense of change. We know that each of our personalities carries preferences too. When we learn about our personality preferences through an assessment such as the Myers Briggs, we can begin to understand and learn to manage our brain’s reactions that may show up for us amid change. For example, those that like risk, novelty, and the unknown change may create an anxiousness that propels them forward. For those that like the status quo, the movement toward something different or new can create anxiety that shows up in being afraid of taking even one step toward the unknown.
What can we do to create a balanced approach to change?
Here are 6 areas of your life that you may need to re-define as you experience change in your life:
- Intellectually – Stay in the present; challenge your negative predictions – Those who live in the moment report feeling happier, calmer, more relaxed, and appreciative. Even if things are challenging or stressful, allowing yourself to feel these emotions is part of the process of managing one’s life. Challenging yourself to reframe the pessimistic predictions and allow for learning, growth, and enjoying the journey can happen only when you can trust in yourself and understand your sense of purpose.
- Socially – Lean in toward others – Social systems are vital in managing life transitions. Even just one friend or family member that can listen and offer support will aid in your ability to feel confident in finding a way to make sense of the adjustment.
- Spiritually – Channel your energy – The 3 M’s of meditation, mindfulness, and music is an excellent place to connect with your inner-self. We tend to spend a lot of time worrying about what others will think or what we should be doing, which is how we often try to protect ourselves from change. When we connect with our inner-self, by setting aside time to breathe and be, we can bring our thoughts to our values and our authentic path.
- Physically – Practice self-care – When our brains are activated to protect us from change, they start sending messages to our nervous system so that our body reacts and stores the reaction. To find balance, we need to manage the nervous system by allowing our bodies to process their reactions through exercise, journaling, yoga, stretching, or massage.
- Occupational – Seek perspective – Life doesn’t always go as planned. Life transitions can create feelings of the unknown, but even in the unknown, we can find certainty. Focus on the present and find gratitude about your career, family, relationships, independence, creativity, time, and other parts of life that currently feel fulfilling and joyful.
- Emotionally – Honor the change process – Since we’re staying in the present, let’s focus on what we can control. In times of transition, some things are in our control, and others are not in our control. You cannot change what you cannot control, but you can change how you react to it. Reiterate your gratitude and look for the way you can create growth and learn from the transition. Redirecting our fear, reaching out for help, imagining a plan for what’s to come, all honor change and the humanness of our lives.
A life of transitions and change is inevitable in the cycle of our lives. At times the process of moving from one part of life to another can feel daunting and push us out of our comfort zone. The opportunity to find balance and comfort even in the midst of the unknown is possible. If you need help learning more about balancing a life transition, a counselor can help you process your emotions and help you move forward. Click here to schedule a free 15-minute consultation with one of our licensed therapists.