Coping With Difficult Transitions


I don’t care who we are, coping with periods of transition IS difficult. Stuck, paralyzed, frustrated, irritable, fearful…these are the emotions that can haunt us during the season of change. We fear the unknown, what we don’t know how to do or what it might be once we do it, the possibility that we might regret leaving the familiar behind. When we are young, the future seems open, unwritten; and sometimes the vastness of this territory terrifies us into indecision. What if we make the “wrong” choice”? What if we “fail”? As we approach middle age, sometimes we are horrified by the decisions we didn’t make, as well as the decisions we did. We may have made choices that kept us safe, but bored, unchallenged and unfulfilled.

Even when we have lived a life that has felt very satisfying, we can arrive at our fifties and feel we want a change, something new. Perhaps we’ve always been on a growth streak, which never seems to end. And we get to yet another time of transition, and we feel inspired to move, but are simultaneously overwhelmed by having to yet again learn something different. We’re tired, wonder if we have the energy for one more change, and in our pause to think, notice our melancholy. If we shift faster rather than slower, we can avoid depression. But maybe we don’t because our fatigue, lack of motivation and stuckness have consumed us. As we near the end of life, we can fear sickness and death. Our bodies don’t quite function as we would like them to, but we feel stuck with our habits of eating poorly, sitting around the house, not moving, not learning, not doing much at all. So how do we cope?

First, it is imperative that we take time to notice how we are feeling. Is it stuckness, confusion, overwhelm, anxiety, depression, pain, fatigue? Painful emotions are easier to work through when we notice them earlier rather than later, after they become too intense. Try to pay attention to the body’s emotions when they are more like a 2 to 4, out of a 0 to 10 max scale. Second, we are called to hear the messages of the emotions. Are we called to push upon the boundaries of our comfort zone? Change careers or advance in our current vocation? Learn something new? Try something different? Do something in an alternative way? Third, we need to feel compassion for ourselves and our discomfort, our pain or irritability, fear or despair, grief or anger. Be gentle. Shift the self-talk to that of a kind coach or inner cheerleader.  Be encouraging. Fourth, we need to resource ourselves. None of us knows it all. It is wise to ask for help from those best in the position to help us. Maybe we need a counselor, attorney, financial adviser, business coach, or a combination of several sources of guidance. Fifth, staying away from the naysayers may be essential. At least in that we do not seek out their opinions. They usually only serve to hold us back, and for even longer. Sixth, take on change a little at a time. Most of us may not be able to heap on too much at any given time. But, we CAN handle one bite at a time. And while we work toward our goals, we can also give ourselves plenty of time to rest, relax and play. Balance may be the key. It often is. Seventh, we can persist. No matter how long it takes, we inevitably succeed when we simply keep at it until we do. It is exciting to know that we are hardwired for change. Neuroscientists call it “neuroplasticity”. The brain adapts our nervous system, as well as the entire body, to anything we do repeatedly. So as we practice, practice, practice…..taking our baby steps toward transition…..we are designed to succeed at change. So, feel the inspiration to change, be compassionate toward yourself as you feel the struggle of transition, learn to tolerate and cope with discomfort, and take it a little bit at a time. Then persist at inching your way forward, while reminding yourself that you were made to succeed at changing in the direction of your highest growth.

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