Transitions: How to Survive When Your Life Unexpectedly Changes

Life transitions come in all shapes and sizes. Some of these major life changes are not surprises and may even be planned well in advance. These types of changes may include:

  • Moving/Relocating
  • Getting married/Moving in with a partner
  • Having a child
  • Resigning from a job/Retiring
  • Reaching a landmark age (30, 40, 50, 65, etc.)

Of course, this is not to say the transitions we initiate are easy to deal with. For example, you may plan a relocation for a year but can never fully comprehend its impact until you’ve settled into your new home!

Some potentially unexpected life changes:

  • Divorce or sudden break-up
  • Illness or injury
  • Having to care for elderly parents
  • Losing your job or being laid off
  • Empty nest syndrome
  • Death of a loved one

Needless to say, transitions of this sort are usually traumatic. Major, unexpected life changes can and often do leave us in a state of shock. Our foundation no longer feels secure. The familiar has been disrupted, perhaps permanently.

On some level, we all know such shifts are an inevitable part of the human adventure. Yet that does not make it any easier to manage these transitions—especially those that begin without any prior warning. With this reality in mind, let’s begin by refreshing our memory about some general dealing-with-life-changes advice.

Transition Basics

Whether you’ve been slowly working towards that transition or you’ve been floored by something you never saw coming, dealing with the inevitable stress begins with basic self-care advice.

  • Guard your sleep
  • Maintain healthy eating patterns
  • Exercise and stay active
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Lean on your support system
  • Seek help from a qualified professional

Everything is far more difficult if you’re not taking care of your fundamental needs. A little self-care and self-love go a long, long way in helping you regain your footing after a jolting experience. With this as your foundation, you’re ready to deal with the trauma and learn as you go.

  1. Go Easy On Yourself

Self-blame is a reflexive response to jolting change. We may choose to perceive ourselves as not protecting someone from injury. Perhaps we’ll replay every work-related conversation for the past month to find clues on how we “got ourselves fired.” And break-ups offer far too many ways to self-punish. There may be valuable lessons to be learned but this is not the time.

  1. Honor Your Feelings

It’s perfectly normal to feel fear, sadness, anger, depression, and more.

  1. Choose Flexibility

Be wary of what feels like a “first instinct” in terms of problem-solving. Stay open to new possibilities. Change provides opportunity to create fresh patterns.

  1. Stay in the Moment

Stay present. Focus on your immediate feelings and needs. Make a list and tackle one step at a time.

  1. Count Your Blessings

It may sound odd, but search for gratitude. In a moment of darkness, taking inventory of your blessings can help cultivate balance.

  1. Let Go

Life-changing transitions are unavoidable. Acceptance of this reality is not a license to dodge responsibility. Rather, it’s an invitation to recognize what you can control: your own reaction.

  1. Find the Lessons

After you’ve given yourself a break, there’s value in exploring the traumatic event details. What led up to it? What was your role (if any)? How did you respond? Most importantly: How can this difficult and challenging experience lead to growth and a healthy recovery?

  1. Ask for Help

Meeting regularly with a therapist is a proven method of managing life changes.

Whether you’re experiencing a planned for or an unexpected transition, how well you cope with it depend a lot on your own actions. Feeling overwhelmed is common. A trained counselor will help you get past the chaos so you can better understand and deal with the situation.

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