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Handling Life Transitions

By Alison Brown, LMSW

Life requires transitions. This kind of movement can be an opportunity for growth but is often uncomfortable. We can be content with the way things are and dread change, or we can dream of it every night before we go to sleep, but no matter what, transitional change is built into the human experience. If able, we move through life stages, physically and emotionally, from infants to children to adolescents to adults to older adults. No one asks when, or if, we are ready to move on, if it’s a convenient time, or if we have the support of friends or family.  

Change comes in many shapes, sizes, and variations. From large, life consuming changes – like a serious diagnosis or big pay raise – to shifting minor details, like a quiet neighbor moving out. Transitional change happens whether we’re paying attention or not, whether we’ve asked for it or prayed it away. In life post quarantine, lingering anxiety can be a common experience triggered by anything and everything. Taking the time to find, collect, and use tools to cope with this transition is a valuable exercise in self-care that can be revisited or maintained. 

For the past three years, there’s been an enormous amount of change that has fundamentally altered the way our world works. As institutions search for their new sense of normalcy, communities and people are doing the same by:  

  1. Creating Routine
    Creating and implementing a realistic routine can help manage stress. Realistic being the key word. Try choosing a time of day (like the hour after you wake up in the morning or the hour before you go to bed at night) and create a five to ten step routine. Keep it brief – to avoid getting bogged down in the minute details – as well as attainable, so you’re not discouraged.
  2. Making Preparations
    If you have time to prepare for an upcoming transition, attempt to do so. If you have a new child coming, utilize local resources to take parenting classes or get supplies. If you’re retiring, research the best ways to stay connected with important colleagues and peers. This can become a double-edged sword because trying to prepare for every possible ‘what-if’ is a losing battle. Choose to prepare for things that are in your control.

  3. Using Supports
    Families can be predetermined or chosen and can either function as a support system or safety net, as you navigate change. Pets, favorite outdoor spots, comfort movies or clothing can all be supports too. Any aspects of your life you feel close to and are able to rely on can function as stress management.

  4. Knowing Your Limits
    It’s important to know when you need help. If your stress is overwhelming, or you’re struggling more than expected managing parts of transitional change, it could be time to seek professional help. Make it work for you, don’t be continuously “working on it.”

Transitions must happen, whether we are ready or not, willing or begrudging, alone or supported. By setting a routine where possible, being prepared, having a fortified system of support, and knowing when to ask for help, we can face change and its accompanying stressors head on.  

Alison Brown, LMSW, is a Clinical Therapist at Jewish Community Services.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence.

To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or 410-466-9200.

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