Right now, we are dealing with a global pandemic that has forced all of us into a time of major life transitions to a varying degree. Some of us have had our lives changed immeasurably, while others have only had to make relatively minor adjustments to their daily lives. However, we have all had to react to this pandemic in some way.
Tips for Surviving and Thriving through Life Transitions
As described in a previous blog post, we all face life transitions. At times, we are challenged by major life transitions that can either be a single, large event, or they can be the result of many transitions piling on top of each other. We are all, in some ways, dealing with a major life transition right now simply because we are living through a global pandemic. Added to normal life stressors and changes, and those caused by Covid-19 directly or indirectly, this is a huge period of global transition.
Bruce Feiler, author of Life is in the Transitions writes, “Lifequakes may be voluntary or involuntary, but navigating the transitions that flow from them can only be voluntary. We must choose to deploy the skills.” He explains that we can all learn skills to help us move through transitions more successfully. It is our response and reaction to transitions that is always voluntary.
Tips for Navigating Major Life Transitions
We have compiled some tips and strategies to help you through this difficult time.
1. Ignore advice about passing linearly through specific stages.
A lot of writing on transitions refers to stages and processes that you must pass through. People talk about problems caused by “skipping steps” of grieving. Feiler convincingly argues that transitions rarely follow a clear, linear process. More often, transitions are described as zigzags, rollercoasters, loops, and curlicues. I find this approach to make more sense and to take pressure off of from feeling the need to grieve or transition “properly.”
2. Know that you aren’t alone – changes is inevitable.
Feiler’s research also shows that life changes are happening with increasing frequency and that the average person spends nearly half his/her life responding to major transitions. Feiler notes, “You or someone you love is almost surely going through one now.”
There is something about transitions and hard times that can make us feel alone. We feel like no one understands our pain, and yet, most of the transitions we have are things that others have faced too. In fact, it’s likely that many others have faced the same transitions. While the details and circumstance may be unique to each of us individually, there is a good chance that others do know how we are feeling and may even be a great resource.
This is one reason we have created All Life Transitions. We are creating a community to help individuals through major changes. “Even an online community of people going through similar experiences can give you an emotional boost, as well as some practical tips,” Susan Krauss Whitbourne, writes. Just know – you are not alone, and if you don’t know where to turn, explore the resources available on our website.
3. Focus on your successful transitions.
Given that we all go through multiple life changes, you have probably had to navigate major life changes before. Whether it was a move as a child or your parent’s divorce or moving out on your own – you have likely experienced other transitions. Maybe the transition you are going through is bigger and more difficult than any before but thinking back on previous transitions and hard times and focusing on how you survived can be helpful. It can be a good reminder that you have done hard things in the past. Author, Glennon Doyle, frequently reminds her readers that, while life can be difficult, “We can do hard things.”
It may be helpful to spend some time considering what worked and didn’t work for you during a previous hard time. You may even see some of these recommendations that you did or didn’t do in the past. It’s always good to learn from our own successes and failures.
4. Give yourself time.
Feiler’s research show that it takes 3-5 years to progress through major transitions. This is a long time! However, it helps to know that your long time of change is not unique. It’s simply a part of life.
My mom was diagnosed with leukemia about 3.5 years before she died, and now I’m dealing with her death. After reading Feiler’s book, I realized this entire time has been full of transitions. After the initial diagnosis, she got treatment near where I live – 5 hours away from her home. She was coming and staying with us a lot during that year, and I went to as many appointments with her as I could. This was a sudden and major change for us all.
Then just as suddenly, her treatment stopped working, and she stopped coming for visits and appointments. She ended up going to a facility closer to her home for the rest of her treatments. This was another transition time for us. Like other cancer patients, her journey was a rollercoaster with a series of highs and lows and twists and turns. Our lives were driven by a force beyond our control. We never knew what each day would bring.
Eventually, she exhausted her treatment options. She ended up on hospice care and passed away two weeks later. That was the ultimate “transition,” which is the hospice word for dying. I really liked thinking of that time as her transition.
Now, I’m in the final stages of this transition – the grieving, mourning, and recovery process. I don’t know how much longer it will last, but just knowing that transitions take 3-5 years, and I’m a good 3.5 years in gives me a sense of comfort. It makes me feel like it is alright if I’m still struggling for a good while longer. It takes pressure off me to get over it and figure things out right now.
I hope you feel the same way regardless of what your transition is. It’s going to take time, and that’s ok. This is why we need to learn to navigate our transitions as well as possible. They are a big chunk of our life.
5. Avoid self-medicating of any kind.
We all know it’s tempting to self-medicate with whatever form of self-medication you use. However, when we do so and numb our feelings, we cannot process them. Those feelings will eventually come out. It’s better to deal with them in a healthy manner; rather than trying to escape from them with self-medication. If you need help with self-medication, we can help connect you to a licensed counselor for advice.
There have been numerous studies showing how important exercise is for our body and mind. We know that for some people, exercise can be one of the best treatments for depression. (For people with severe depression, exercise alone is likely not enough.) However, we all know that it can be hard to exercise when you are feeling down.
We suggest that you start slow and start with something you enjoy even a little bit. If all you can do is a short walk today, then do that. Start where you are and have grace for yourself. If exercising twice a week seems overwhelming, do one day a week. You do not have to go from no exercise to doing it all. Have patience with yourself and accept your limits.
We are living in a time where you can find endless workout videos for all types of workouts for free online. If you have not been exercising at all, you might try some different programs and see what you enjoy.
It is also very helpful to have an exercise buddy. If you are going through a life change and have people offering to help you, take someone up on it, and ask them to exercise with you. Whatever you do, just get started.
For those of you who already exercise and have been before and during your transition, good for you! Keep it up.
Personally, I started working out again two years ago – in the middle of my transition time. I started with a beginner workout class twice a week. I was committed and didn’t miss a class, but that was all I did. I was proud of myself for doing that much. Eventually, I added in walking or yoga on other days. Then I added in more strength training and running. Now, I regularly workout five to seven days a week. My key to keeping going was starting small and doing what I could at the time. I knew two days a week was not great, but it was for me at the time.
When my mom was on hospice care, I went for walks once in a while. I let myself back off of the harder workouts that I didn’t feel I had in me at the time. I’m now back to working out more and getting my strength back. I believe it’s important to listen to your body and do what you are able to do. Gradually, the health benefits and the mood improvements gained from exercise made working out something I look forward to doing. I plan my day around my workouts and make sure that I don’t run out of time for taking care of myself.
7. Practice mindfulness and gratitude.
It seems like the past five years or so that everywhere we look, we see something about mindfulness and gratitude. About five years ago, I read The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. He is a positive psychologist and uses research to show that we can choose happiness and influence our mood for the better with some simple activities. Similarly, in Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, she shares the tools and behaviors that she used to help get through the sudden death of her husband.
Both of them wrote about focusing on gratitude. Many other researchers have noted the benefits of gratitude too. Basically, a gratitude practice is taking time in your day to notice things to be grateful for and writing them down. Even in our darkest hours, we can find something to be grateful for. Whether it is a smile from a stranger, a pretty sunset, a hug from a friend, choosing to focus on something good each day is a great way to get through the hard times. The act of writing down that which we are grateful for is particularly beneficial.
Similarly, mindfulness is something that has been studied and written about for decades, but it is becoming increasingly popular. Mindfulness refers to being fully present in the moment, free from judgement, aware of our thoughts and feelings but not focusing on them. Practicing mindfulness can help reduce our stress and increase happiness. There are many great resources and books available on mindfulness and even classes to learn more like the MBSR – Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. I am currently taking an MBSR course now, and I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in mindfulness. If you would like to learn more, send us an email and let us know. We can help you.
8. Lean on your network of support – family, friends, and online communities.
When you are struggling, the people who love you want to help. However, they often don’t know what to do. They may make vague offers of help because they don’t know what else to do. Take them up on those offers. When the idea of planning another meal seems overwhelming, tell someone. When my mom was in hospice, her friends offered to cook for me. At first, I said no because it was just me there. When we started having more people around (my mom’s sisters), we reached out to my mom’s friend and asked for food. Her friends were happy to help, and we so appreciated their kindness.
Accept offers for help. We have times in our lives where we are the ones offering to help, and we have times where our job is to accept offers of help. Make sure to accept the offers when it is your turn.
9. Learn from others.
While there has not been a lot of research done on transitions, there has been some. We highly recommend Bruce Feiler’s book, Life is in the Transitions. If you are finding yourself in an unplanned and difficult transition, Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B may be a great resource for you.
All Life Transitions has pulled together a marketplace of tools, tips, resources, and services that you may find helpful. Our goal is to create a one-stop shop where you can find all the things you need to help you through major life transitions. Take a look at our website and let us know what you think.
10. If you are planning for a transition, get everything ready.
There can be a lot of work to do in preparation for major transitions especially if they involve moving. Similarly, planning for retirement is crucial. Much of the retirement literature recommends preparing for at least 2 years before retirement for this life change. Planning ahead of time and getting help will make the transition as smooth as possible.
We have many resources, services, tools, and checklists to help you through the planning stages and even through the transition itself.
11. Follow curiosity and be creative.
Sometimes the hardest part of a transition is not knowing what comes next. If you are dealing with a loss of some sort, you may feel a hole or void. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, encourages us to follow the things we are curious about even if we don’t know where it will lead us. Gilbert writes, “I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” If there is something you are curious about, this may be the best time to explore it.
You do not have to know where it is going to take you, and you should not expect this curiosity to lead you to a career. You should just explore and see what happens. Gilbert encourages us all to create something – whether it’s art, writing, food, a garden, or whatever – creativity is part of us all. Gilbert writes, “Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it.”
I encourage you to use this time of transition to explore your creative side. Many of us are already doing this during the pandemic as evidenced by the many pictures of sourdough bread, Tik Tok dance videos, and musical performances we see on social media. There is something about a time of transition that makes us want to create. I hope you will allow yourself to do so.
In closing, while transitions may be voluntary or involuntary, we must voluntarily choose how to respond to them. We can choose to take action and respond in ways that are productive and even creative. We can lean on our support systems, and we can come out of transitions better than before if we choose to do the work. In Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious You, Jen Hatmaker writes, “Insist that you are worth the work, because the people who adore you are worth your best.” I think this is pretty great advice for us all.
Visit us at www.AllLT.com and let us help you through your major life transitions.