Learning Through Transition

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Transitions are inherently challenging. We go through so many in the human lifespan that we often don’t stop to acknowledge that they are happening. Whether its marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, menopause, or death, how we traverse these changes will not only determine how we will come out the other side, but how well we will manage the inevitable next challenge life throws our way.

Sometimes we can plan for our life transitions because they are predictable and universal, but the harder transitions are the ones that seem to come out of nowhere. Feeling unprepared for life’s curveballs can lead to overwhelm, depression and stress.

The cornerstone of every transition is change. Change is uncomfortable and we often resist it. We tell ourselves that change is bad, and we delude ourselves into believing that we have control over the changes that happen in our life. This illusive sense of control alleviates the fear that underlies the uncertainty we so often have to face as part of a life transition. It is counter-intuitive to move into the unknown, as it can feel like walking blindly around in a pitch-black room. Transitions can leave us feeling de=centered, frightened, and alone.

Feeling stuck and paralyzed during a transition is common. We freeze up out of fear making it impossible to move forward, or to go back. We find ourselves in a state of immobility at a time when we need to be moving through. It is also common for people to only focus on getting from point A to point B without any attention to the process in between. The wake me when it’s over attitude is not productive because it is the experiences that happen during the transition that lead to growth and an adaptive outcome. Transitions are an opportunity for personal insight and knowledge. We know what we are capable of when we transition through a challenging time, and we also learn that we can survive things that feel like they will kill us.

Inside all of is the capacity to learn, thrive and grow from misfortune. Just like a little toddler learning to walk, we continue to learn resilience as adults by falling down and getting back up again. If we choose to learn, we will have positive outcomes from challenging experiences. This is how we become resilient.

Through life’s challenges we learn that we can survive the worst, we gain the wisdom we need, and we learn to tolerate uncertainty. Most importantly we learn to be patient, and to relinquish control over the outcome.

Here are some tips to move through a life transition in a healthy and adaptive way:

Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness, and staying in the present moment is a great tool for life transitions. When life becomes challenging our tendency is to go to future fantasies or to long for the past. The power of now can be very grounding and helpful when things become uncertain. The one thing you can always come back to is your breath. You can be sure it will always be there when you need it.

Support: Surrounding yourself with supportive, loving people during a transition is essential. Many of us tend to isolate and power through difficult life situations, and forget to reach out to others. Joining a support group or just calling a friend can be extremely helpful when things feel overwhelming.

Self-Compassion: Many of us forget to treat ourselves with the same understanding and compassion we would show others. Many transitions are painful making it important for you to remember to be kind and gentle with yourself.

Grieve: Transition almost always involves loss, and most loss requires a period of grieving. We often think of grief as a negative experience, but it is actually an essential aspect of moving forward. Give yourself the opportunity to grieve, and consider seeking professional help to ease the process.

Reframe: Much of what life brings our way cannot be changed. What can be altered however is how we view what is happening. Just shifting your perspective from looking at your situation as a negative, try to find the lesson and the wisdom in what you are being confronted with.

Each day we are given many opportunities to open up or shut down to what life is teaching us. The most precious opportunity for growth comes when we feel we can’t handle what is happening. Use these moments to become a better you, and to live a more peaceful life.

Andra Brosh, Ph.D., BCHN