Life Transitions and Stress

If you’ve ever switched jobs, moved schools, married, divorced, or even decided to order sushi instead of Mexican food for dinner, you’ve experienced change. Some life transitions are exciting, like getting married. Some are terrifying to even think about, such as a death in the family. Some changes are small, like changing dinner plans. Some changes are large, such as taking a trip to Italy; and like this, some are planned, and others are completely unexpected.

No matter the change, you may be feeling the impact in a way that is bringing up stress, fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. Why? Because change means you’ll need to adjust to a new way of living, and face uncertainty.

Stress Caused by Changes and Life Transitions

The stress you feel from a life transition or big change can often come from negative self-talk, such as the voice inside your heads saying, “I can’t handle this change,” or a feeling of uncertainty, “I don’t know what’s going to happen next week, or next month, or next year!” This can lead to chronic worrying, low self-esteem, and fear of the unknown. People are not well-built to handle uncertainty, Dr. Sirini Pillay, refers to this as uncertainty bias: the brain automatically views uncertainty as negative, which leads to imagining worst-case scenarios.

With life transition comes adjustments in routines, relationships and what your everyday environment looks like. All these adjustments, no matter how small, take a conscious effort, which consumes energy and can make a person feel exhausted, stressed, and low.


Loss and Grief Caused By Change

Loss doesn’t only have to refer to someone in our life who has died. It can be the loss of an old home, old routines, or even the loss of a role you played in life. For example, when people transition into motherhood, they sometimes feel they must let go of the person they once were. It’s natural to grieve the loss of that role despite the happiness and excitement that may also feel with becoming a parent. Any big change can bring up a sense of loss, which in turn can increase feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear of adopting a new role, and leaving the old one behind.

Coping with Life Transitions

If life can be unpredictable and humans naturally find change difficult, how can you hope to manage? Fear is caused by the voice that says “I can’t handle this,”, but that voice can be managed by self-reflection and by positive self-talk. It may feel overwhelming to take on changes, but it can be motivating to recognize that this is not your first time. You are, like we all are, an ever changing human being! You will get through this. When you hear that worried side come up, you can counter that voice with one that says “this is not my first rodeo, I will get through this!” It’s also good to remember that uncertainty isn’t bad or good, it’s simply unknown.

Life transitions which are overwhelming with changes across the board can be managed by giving yourself a routine and finding some stability. When change is so unpredictable, the predictability of routine can bring a sense of comfort and ease. Keeping old routines or developing a “non-place-based routine” such as listening to a specific song that helps you to feel confident and safe, or giving yourself a breather break, where you take a two minute break to sit calmly and focus on your breath. These strategies can be used through most life changes and create a deeper sense of stability. It may also be helpful to break things into small doable tasks, which can provide a sense of accomplishment and reduce anxiety.

Knowing What to Expect

In times of change and transitions, it’s good to remember that your feelings are normal, and make sense. As things change and you’re forced to adapt, it may be uncomfortable and scary. Acknowledging this and being compassionate towards yourself as you let yourself mourn your losses can help you to reduce immediate stress, while simultaneously allowing you to look forward to positive aspects of change that are upcoming.

If a life transition is causing significant distress ,and preventing you from undergoing regular activities or obligations, talking to a professional for guidance can also help. Some changes are too large to handle alone.