In life, few things are certain. People lose things they might have taken for granted, gain things they never would’ve imagined, or obtain an appreciation for things they would’ve missed if not for a split-second change of heart or a mighty coincidence.
No matter how much you’ve lived, no matter how much you’ve seen, no matter how well you prepare; life always manages to throw you a curveball. Sometimes, we see those curveballs coming. Oftentimes we don’t. But it’s those curveballs – and how well we react to them – that determine who we are, and what we make of ourselves.
Whether you’re forced into a new career path, anticipating a new family member, or made to deal with a tragic loss, life’s myriad transitions make us question the things we know and confront our capacity for change.
Being flexible and adaptable – no matter the circumstances – are rare and valuable skills, but they can be trained. Learn how you can gain confidence in the face of uncertainty, embrace change, and navigate stressful life transitions successfully.
Why Change Is Stressful
One of our unique traits as a species is our capacity for adaptation. Our intellect and dexterity allow us to observe and recognize patterns to avoid danger, plan and prepare to survive, and learn to cope even in extreme conditions. Life is defined by constant change, and we’ve come as far as we have – as a species, but also as individuals – because of our capacity to roll with the punches.
Change is stressful and nerve-wracking, especially when it leads to the unknown. Losing a job you’ve relied on for years is terrifying – just as terrifying as taking your first steps into adulthood, or making a lifelong commitment to someone. Change also means that something we know and are familiar with is coming to an end. And the end of something is always scary.
Learning to accept and embrace that impermanence, however, and look forward to something new can empower us to lead better, more fearless lives.
Oftentimes, change is necessary. Life transitions give us the opportunity to grow, to improve, to have a more fulfilling life. But we need to learn to embrace these changes to make the most of them – and teach ourselves to remain open to change when it rears its head.
Tip 1: Recognize and Come to Terms with Change
Start by recognizing and naming the changes you’re afraid of. If you’re transitioning towards a different career, for example, then what exactly are your greatest worries? Naming your worries can help you accept this new chapter in your life by laying bear each of your anxieties and allowing you to address them one by one.
If this is a brand-new career direction for you, then you might be worried about your competence. However, consider that if you’ve been hired for a position, it means that there are people who place great trust in you to perform the assigned tasks, and do well. If you’re worried about failure, then remember all the other times you’ve been worried about stepping up and failing, only to succeed and do well.
If you’ve been struggling lately and are worried about transitioning into a formal treatment plan, then focus on the fact that a treatment environment can help you feel better, regain control, and finally do the things you’ve been dreaming of doing. Bouts of depression, severe anxiety, or even substance use can rob you of your agency and make you feel trapped – while getting residential treatment can be scary, it’s also the first step towards major positive life changes.
By recognizing each of the elements you’re worried about, you can come to terms with change – and accept it as something positive.
Tip 2: Nurture Your Support System
No man is an island, that’s never more evident than during turbulent life transitions. We need each other, and rely on the presence of our families, friends, and partners to help affirm our decisions, guide us through the present, and provide emotional, physical, or material support when we need it.
In turn, nurture that support system. Help others when they need it. Be there for your loved ones. Nurture supportive relationships: that means cutting ties to people who always take and never give, and reaching out to those who need a helping hand to do better. More than just quid pro quo, helping others has also been proven to help lift our own mood, improve our self-esteem, and give us a more positive outlook on life.
Tip 3: Prioritize Healthy Coping
Stress is normal, and healthy to a degree. We can improve our tolerance for stress and our ability to react productively in the face of a difficult situation by adopting healthy and positive coping mechanisms and eliminating negative coping skills.
Positive coping mechanisms allow us to better ourselves physically, emotionally, or socially. Negative coping skills might help us get the job done in the short-term, but carry a long-term cost or burden, often a physical or emotional one. Alcohol is the prime example of a negative coping mechanism, but the same goes for extreme sports or excessive risk-taking, as well as other unhealthy avenues of escapism.
Tip 4: Seek Professional Help
Therapy and counseling aren’t strictly reserved for people who have a diagnosed mental health problem. It is legitimate and advised to consider talking to a mental health professional whenever you feel overwhelmed, worried, or in need of proper guidance.
Therapists and counselors can provide impartial and entirely individualized guidance for any personal crisis. Don’t wait until things become unmanageable to get professional help.
Tip 5: Focus on What You Can Control
One of the things that makes a major life transition so frightening is the lack of control. A jump into uncertainty means letting go of the steering wheel, without knowing the outcome of your decision beforehand. It’s normal to be terrified of that feeling.
You can help fight back against that feeling by reiterating the control you do have over your life. If you’re in the middle of a bad breakup, take stock of the things you can affect in your own life today.
You can’t force someone to hire you, but you can control the first impression you make, and control the presentation of your portfolio and your resume. You can’t change the way people feel about you or what they think, but you can work on your own self-value, improve your self-esteem through skill-building, or invest time into the relationships that really matter.
Life transitions can be exciting, or scary, or both. And while we can’t control the outcomes of many of the decisions we make, we can endeavor to be more flexible towards those outcomes, and promise to make the best of whatever may come our way.