#Mastering Transitions – How to Adjust During A Difficult Time
Written By: Kacey Wehr, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist & Mental Health & Wellness Specialist.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” - Lao Tzu
At no other time in our nation’s history (at least not in my lifetime) have we been through such an upheaval. Every day brings new waves of fear, change, guidelines, expectations, illness (if not our own, then someone we know and love), and a new “normal”. We are a world in a perpetual state of transition right now. Just as you think you’ve adjusted and recalibrated, some new information comes to light and the proverbial rug gets pulled out from under you yet again. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that we are living through an experience that is unprecedented and frankly, plain scary and weird. Between the toilet paper hoarding, the crazy grocery shopping sprees, the increased gun sales, the empty streets, the transition of so many jobs to ‘work from home’ positions, the closed down schools, shopping centers, public parks, bars, clubs, and coffee shops, the non-stop news and media coverage keeping the anxiety ramped up nice and high, and our completely understandable concerns for our vulnerable friends and family members, this is a very difficult time for us all. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “transition” as, “ (a.) passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another; or (b.) a movement, development, or evolution from one form, stage, or style to another” (n.a., 2020) and as individuals, as families, as workers, as parents, as a community, as a country we are all in a state of transition, so the question is, how do we masterfully come through this? How do we navigate these changes and adjust with the least amount of distress possible?
“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” - Eckhart Tolle
Stages of Transition:
According to Psychologist and author Tamar Chansky (Huffpost, 2012), there are three stages we all go through during a significant transition.
Stage 1: Resisting and Reacting- This stage is characterized by feelings of doubt and discomfort as you are actively objecting and negatively comparing your new situation to your old one. This stage is plagued by thoughts and comments like, “but that’s not how we used to do it!”, or “Things were way better before!”, and “This sucks!”. The problem at this stage is that you are not really objectively looking at the situation but are judging it, and things seldom look good from this perspective.
Stage 2: Adjusting and Exploring - During this stage, you are doing more than just reacting to your feelings. You are gathering information on how to make this work, making plans, choices and decisions, making new connections, asking questions and beginning to get your ‘sea legs’ so-to-speak. This means things are starting to feel less unstable, and ‘change’ is less threatening. You are more in control despite the changes that come up.
Stage 3: Living Well in Your ‘New’ World- Once you have made it to this stage, it doesn’t really feel like a stage any more. You’re accepting and incorporating the ‘new’ so much that it now feels like your new ‘normal’. Once you’ve arrived here, you have, in fact, ‘mastered’ transition like a boss!
But how do we get from Stage 1 to Stage 3?! I wish I could tell you that you just snap your fingers and can be completely content and comfortable with all things new and unfamiliar, but that is sadly, not how it works. According to Tamar Chansky (2012) there are, however, steps you can take to ease the transition and help you navigate those stages successfully.
Quarantine Approved Self-Care Ideas:
- Don’t expect to feel fantastic at first: Expect the opposite - The best way to cut down on your anguish is to not expect that you will have a seamless transition, but actually the opposite. If you expect discomfort it won’t hit you as hard as it would if you expected an easy/happy process. I know this sounds backwards (and it is!) but it really does work. If you can mentally prepare yourself by having a little pep-talk (like, “hey, today is going to be challenging, and that’s okay. Let’s just take it one hour/minute/step at a time.”) then it is less likely to sneak up on you and throw you for a total loop.
- Fast forward to the end (even if we don’t know when that will be) and put a timeframe on your adjustment period - How do you think things will really turn out in the end? Counter any anxious predictions/assumptions with as many facts as you can. Then give yourself a reasonable timeline to accomplish different aspects of the transition (For example: 1 weeks to come up with a new daily routine that incorporates the quarantine regulations; 2 weeks to get a new at-home work-out routine in place; 2 weeks to connect with other moms to set up a weekly online “Moms Happy Hour”; 4 weeks to find a therapist that provides Telehealth therapy; 1 month to make a list of do-able home projects I can be working on during the quarantine; etc.). I know this step is particularly difficult during this current Pandemic situation where so much is unknown and up in the air, but the recommendation holds true regardless. Do the best you can with the information you currently have and don’t let the unknowns be a reason not to move forward.
- Acknowledge what hasn’t changed - Especially during the current pandemic crisis when it feels like absolutely everything has changed (and like the whole world has turned on its axis!) it is important to put things in perspective and acknowledge that many things (or at least some things) about our lives and even our daily routine, have stayed pretty much (if not completely) the same. When we bring this realization to the foreground of our thoughts and acknowledge and call out those things that we do not need to adjust in our lives, it means we have more energy and mental bandwidth to face the things that have changed and demand our time and attention.
- Remember that you have mastered change before - Think back on all of the changes and transitions you have been through before (like becoming a parent for the first time!). How were you able to successfully get through them? It might help to write out some of the biggest transitions you have ever faced personally/as a parent/as a couple and identify some of the things you did that helped you get through it (For example: reaching out to friends and family when I needed extra help; clearly communicating my needs and limits; making time for self-care; having family meetings with my husband to discuss big issues and how we wanted to handle them so we were on the same page; making a check-list; keeping and using a calendar to keep track of things/events/activities/obligations; taking naps when I needed them; making time for loved ones; eating well and consistently; etc). All the experience and tools you have gained from your past experiences with change and transition are at your disposal now. Use them and trust that you will get through this too.
During this difficult time it is important to check in with yourself and ask, “how am I feeling about this transition”? If you are waiting to feel one hundred percent before you start to take these steps, chances are you won’t move at all. It is easy to get paralized with fear or let that anxiety around the unknown dictate our lives, but it is so important to not let it win. Motivation follows behavior, so the more you do, the more confident you will become. So do something. Anything. Start small and take it one step at a time and then build from there. Some of the best and most rewarding things in life come from times of change, transition, and great upheaval. Embrace it and see where it takes you.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves.” - Viktor E. Frankl
Kacey Wehr is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with degrees in Child Development, Psychology, and Marriage & Family Therapy. She has six years experience providing therapy, psychoeducation, developing trainings and workshops, leading support groups, and has over seven years experience in Education having taught Early Education for preschoolers, High School, and Undergraduate Psychology. She has extensive training and experience in Trauma Informed Care, Crisis Intervention, Grief & Bereavement, Complex Trauma, Child Development, and is a Certified Crisis Counselor for victims of relationship abuse/violence and sexual exploitation. She has devoted the majority of her therapeutic experience to working with and empowering young adults, new parents, couples, and families with complex trauma history. She believes in integrating holistic health approaches in her work and attained a Certification as a Wellness Clinician which enables her to utilize aromatherapy in her mental health support. She also is trained in acupressure for labor and has assisted in the labors and births of several of her closest friends as they brought their littles ones into the world. In her free time she enjoys singing, all things crafty, watching movies with her daughter, nesting and home decorating, cooking and eating yummy foods, and traveling the world with her husband (so far they have been to 27 countries and over 40 cities around the globe!). She is here to help other mothers navigate the crazy journey that is parenthood, relationships, challenges with mental health, sex and intimacy, and walk this journey with you, sharing her experience and expertise.