Managing Transitions
© by Mary DuParri, MA, LPC

Transitions come into our lives in many forms. Some are the result of choices we make: a job change, the decision to have a baby, divorce. Some are part of the normal progression of life, like graduation, promotion and retirement. Some come unexpectedly as when we are faced with illness, downsizing or relocation. All transitions, those we seek and those that surprise us require change. They are a threat to the usualness of our lives. Often, though we know transitions are coming, we are unprepared for our reactions to them. They may awaken fears about the future and frustrations with things that are out of our control. The good news is that transitions are springboards into our future. Whether timely or not, they put us in a position to review who we are, how we are living and what we want from the rest of our lives. Transitions allow us to become the author of the next chapter of our autobiography.

Transitions always require some sort of ending. We must say goodbye to whatever we are leaving: the school, the neighborhood, the home, the family or the old self. Even when the transition is a good one, we need to acknowledge a loss or change, and sometimes we need to actually grieve. Trying to skip this step or pretending there are no feelings about an ending usually does not work. Fortunately we have rituals that help in this process. We hold graduation ceremonies, promotion dinners and moving- away parties to both honor the end and celebrate the new beginning. People who do not truly say goodbye to the past life may have difficulty in the new one. When too many of our thoughts go into the old friends, old job, old school or how things used to be, we have no energy left to participate in the new life in front of us.

Though endings can be hard and new beginning scary, the hardest part of a transition is the middle, uncertain phase. During this time it is hard to know if our decisions have been good ones. We are unclear if the path we are on will turn out for the best. However, we can usually tolerate that up-in-the-air feeling if the transition has meaning for us. In fact, the uncertainty can be exhilarating if we feel that we are moving closer to a goal we desire.

Here are some tips to help through a transition:

Remember that our perceptions are not always accurate. When we are in transition we may “awfulize” (tell ourselves that things are worse than they really are). Instead, we can use our self-talk to stay grounded. Thinking, “I can handle this,” is much better than thinking: “Everything is hopeless.” Sometimes adopting a confident wait-and-see attitude can smooth a transition better than trying to force an outcome.

Talk to someone who can help. Who? Any family member, friend or professional who can keep from catching your anxiety and remain objective. Someone who says, “We all go through that,” or “Is there something specific you need to do?” can help us keep our perspective. Talking with someone also can help us keep our eye on what we value instead of being sidetracked by less significant details.

Log your experiences. Write down what is happening, how you are feeling about it, what you need to do and what is keeping you from doing it. Getting our thoughts into a concrete form helps stop the rumination and get us into action.

Review your past transitions. Recognize that you have handled many transitions in the past and have demonstrated over and over the resilience to tolerate change. Pay attention, too, to the fact that most transitions, even ones we did not choose, have created new opportunities for personal growth and success. Imagine that the new job, neighborhood, school or relationship will bring rewards you cannot yet visualize.

Can you see how believing in your resilience to face the future can influence your behavior right now? This belief will let you embark on your next transition with hope, confidence and eagerness for your new beginning.
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