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Managing Life Transitions

“Some transitions look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge"

Eckhart Tolle

Many of us are transitioning from lockdown back into the workplace, socialising, and if we're lucky, travel. While this experience is positive for many people, a large number of my clients are finding our 'newfound freedom' very triggering.

Five months of working from home can bring awareness to some of the unpleasant aspects of working with others. Many realise for the first time how many sexual and racial micro-aggressions they've been dealing with.

According to Beyond Blue, there are a number of reasons why you may be feeling on edge about returning to work, including going back on public transport and factoring traveling time back into your day, sharing equipment with co-workers, changing routines after months of working from home.

If you’re feeling uncomfortable about returning to work, don’t keep it to yourself. Be honest with your employer so you can work through any issues together. Many of my clients have managed to negotiate to work a few days from home to ease the transition. This is an unprecedented situation for employers as well, and they may not be aware of things that are worrying their staff unless they are informed.

Of course, life transitions are not limited to moving out of lockdown. Merriam- Webster defines transition as a change from one state or condition to another, moving from one stage/or state to another.

Life transitions can include but are not limited to:

  • A move

  • A serious accident

  • Developing a severe illness and/or recovering from one

  • Rites of passage: entering puberty, adulthood, menopause, aging

  • Career changes: a promotion, a new job or career, a layoff, retirement

  • Family dynamics: a new baby or another addition, an empty nest, a break-up or a divorce, a marriage, a death, entering a new relationship

  • Education: leaving or returning to school, going to a new school, graduation

According to Bruce Feiler, the author of 'Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age', on average, everyone goes through a disruptive event every 12 to 18 months.

Feiler calls major life changes 'lifequakes'. More than half of 'lifequakes' (53%) are out of our control, such as the sudden loss of a loved one or a job.

We choose nearly half of them (47%), such as moving or changing careers. Others, like a natural disaster, 9/11, or the COVID-19 pandemic, we experience along with other people.

Feiler believes a major life event takes us through three stages:

  1. The long goodbye, when we confront our emotions and say 'goodbye' to the people or situations we are leaving behind.

  2. The messy middle, where we shed certain habits and create new ones.

  3. The new beginning, when we unveil our new selves.

Coping With Life Transitions by Bruce Feiler

Reaction to change from life transitions often involves stress, and for many, healthy ways of coping with that stress will help ensure a smooth transition.

These are some helpful coping methods:

Acceptance. Feiler believes that a successful transition after a 'lifequake,' involves choosing to enter the process. It takes courage to express and accept any emotions that arise. In his research, Feiler found that many people feel fear, sadness, and shame in these instances. Yet transitions provide wonderful opportunities to rewrite your life story. Identify the emotions you’re struggling with to accept them and move on. A useful tool for doing so is to journal your thoughts and feelings.

Reframing. Regardless of the positive or negative nature of a transition, we can tend to expect the worst, seeing the stress caused as a threat rather than a challenge. Acknowledge that you may automatically react to any change negatively. Use 'self-talk' to make more positive statements about your situation.

Preparing. If you want to make a change, plan how you will react and adjust to it. Often it’s helpful to set shorter, specific, baby steps towards making the larger change. For instance, if you’re thinking of returning to school after a long absence, take a class to see how you’ll do.

Re-booting. Psychiatrist Dr. Srini Pillay, suggests engaging in 15-minute bursts of 'intelligent unfocus', such as a nap, structured daydreaming, or doodling. These breaks may help you think more clearly throughout the transition process. In general, 'self-timer, whether you relax, meditate, exercise, or get more sleep, eases stressful situations.

Comparing. Often life transitions involve reflecting on the past to some degree. Use that time to remember prior life transitions and how you coped with them. Remind yourself that others you know have been through similar transitions and consider how they handled their situations. What steps did they take to help or worsen their circumstances?

Getting support. Friends and family who’ve been there can encourage and strengthen you throughout a transition.

Keeping busy. Stay active, keeping your mind and activities focused on tasks that help with your transition, or that keep you constructively occupied.

Life transitions can be challenging for most people including me.

In June, I transitioned from working part-time on my business to being fully self-employed. The transition was painful for me, filled with crippling self-doubt, financial insecurity, and a lack of self-confidence in my ability to make this change successful.

The situation was painful because I projected the very worst outcome possible. My mind told me that I would fail and would have to go back to full-time employment.

In the end, my worst fears did not materialise and my business is thriving and I'm the happiest and most fulfilled I've ever been.

No matter how much we try, we cannot avoid change or transitions. As the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said “change is the only constant".

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