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Coping with major life transitions

By Rachel Parodneck






  1. The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

Few people love change. Life-altering transitions are a part of life. Like it or not, change happens. Nothing is static. Whether positive or negative, everyone deals with it—some people better than others. Life-transitions can include but are not limited to:

  • Accidents
  • Buying a house
  • Changing jobs
  • Divorce
  • Getting married
  • Having a baby
  • Leaving for college
  • Relocation
  • Retirement
  • Selling a house
  • Serious illness
  • Significant loss (of a person, job, pet, or anything important)
  • Starting a career

-(List from article by Richard B. Joelson, DSW)

Coping with a large transition—planned or unplanned—takes a great amount of strength. Your feelings may be all over the place and can include: anxiety, self-doubt, lack of confidence, and many more. 

It is easy to turn to drugs or alcohol as a comfort when feeling uncertain about the future and fearful of change. Engaging in these behaviors will put you in a vulnerable position. By getting inebriated, you won’t be as clear-headed as you need to be in order to effectively cope with change. 

Ideally, you’ll get to the place where you feel secure in the change and optimistic about the future. But how do you get there? Developing healthy coping skills is of the utmost importance.

Learning to identify uncomfortable feelings is essential, as is sharing those feelings with trusted confidants, be it friends, family, or a therapist. By speaking your truth, you give these uncomfortable feelings less power. It is easier to process the emotions and work through them more quickly when you share these feelings with others. Building a support network can be a complete game-changer.

Another aspect of healthy coping is taking good care of oneself. Getting enough sleep, a healthy diet and enjoyable exercise must be at the top of your list of priorities. 

Sleep: learn to develop healthy sleep hygiene. Stop the use of electronics 1 hour before bedtime. If you are unable to do that, at the very least change your settings to bedtime mode. That will make the light coming from your phone or tablet less likely to keep you up. Go to bed as early as you can to get as many Zzz’s as possible. Never underestimate a good night’s sleep. Falling asleep can be difficult. Over the counter remedies such as Sleepytime Tea and/or Melatonin are helpful. However, if you are having a significantly long period of sleeplessness, it may be worth consulting your doctor or a psychiatrist to help you get on track.

Healthy diet: Consume food that makes you feel nourished after you’re done eating. It is important to eat well, getting enough unprocessed foods and choosing from all the food groups. Don’t forget to indulge in your favorite foods once in a while. That will keep you from going overboard when you do decide to treat yourself. If a healthy diet is a challenge, going to a nutritionist can help. Many are even covered by insurance.

Exercise: Think outside the box. You’ll be more likely to get moving when you pick a new or enjoyable activity. Restorative yoga, kickboxing, or simply a walk outside can do wonders for your mood. Getting the endorphins and dopamine flowing is a great natural high. Check out Classpass for an affordable, wide range of classes or gym time at tons of different exercise studios.

Journaling about your experiences and day to day functioning can be a very helpful tool to utilize when struggling with transitions. Putting pen to paper is a deliberate act that can let out pent up emotions. A journal is a record you may look back on to see how far you have come. It is also documentation of your activities and corresponding mood throughout the week, which can be helpful to show your therapist.