We have all heard it said that nothing in life is certain except for death and taxes. Yet, having recently watched the leaves fall and winter push its way into our midst, we’re reminded of another of life’s certainties: change.
Five years after relocating my family from one corner of the country to another for work, I recently found myself again navigating the transition between jobs. I knew the move was necessary in order to expand my value to the families I serve, but I was surprised by how troubled I was when it actually happened. From end to beginning, I hadn’t anticipated just how challenging that transition could be. Yet, such is the nature of change.
Scary or exciting, change is an unavoidable part of life. Marriage, divorce, childbirth, losing a loved one, changing jobs – good or bad, these life transitions have a profound impact on our lives and can be stressful to navigate. Still, it’s important to remember that every change has value and offers opportunity. As the 17th century author, Anne Bradstreet, wrote: “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
What’s the key to successfully making it through a transition? Being prepared. As noted psychologist Dr. Shawn Stoever recommends, start by trying to anticipate transitions before they happen. For example, if your parents are aging and their health is beginning to decline, think about what needs your parents could have and how you might meet those needs. Consider the potential need for long term care, and think about the financial and emotional preparations that are needed to make this transition smoother.
Next, maintain a financial cushion. Even if you don't foresee any transitions in the near future, it's always worth being prepared financially. Keep a minimum of six months of living expenses saved just in case. The extra margin in your finances will help alleviate some of the tension that transitions often bring.
Third, when a major event does happen, proactively take the following steps to handle the emotions and stress:
- Acknowledge your feelings. Whether it’s anger, sadness, hurt or excitement, you will have some emotions associated with the transition.
- Take care of yourself. The healthier you are, the more equipped you will be to handle the emotional, mental and physical challenges associated with change.
- Hold onto the constants in your life. During transitions, it can seem as if your whole world is changing. Remind yourself about what remains unchanged.
- Brainstorm the positives. Take time to discuss what is exciting about the transition. Talk about any new opportunities the change will bring.
Finally, as psychiatrist Dr. Carol Berman suggests, try thinking about transitions this way: "Be happy that changes constantly occur. If you don't like what's happening to you now, wait a while and it will change. If you do like what's occurring now, enjoy it as much as possible - it will be different soon."