Troubling Transitions: 10 Tips for Coping with Change

Even if a change is for the better, that doesn’t always make it easy to embrace.

Posted Nov 08, 2019

How do you handle change? Do you jump right into new situations or do you take a little while to warm up? Chances are that your answer is that it depends on the type of change you’re facing. Even normal life transitions can raise resistance, depending on a few key factors: context, timing, your expectations, and the perceived impact you think the change will have.

Context Matters

Transitions can occur in a variety of contexts, such as your romantic life, your family, your job, your social network, or in the world around you. Where the change is happening can contribute to how easy it is to handle the change.

Timing can be Everything

A big, life altering transitions can come rolling straight at us head-on and leave us nowhere to run. However if it’s arriving right on time, we can handle the shake-up it brings, even when it’s all encompassing. Adding a member to your household – a new baby, a puppy, a partner moving in, or even a roommate – is an example of a huge change in which timing can be the factor that makes it doable or unmanageable.

Were you Expecting this to Happen?

No one likes to be caught flat-footed when a big change is on the horizon. If you know something is on the horizon, or know that “it’s just a matter of time” before something happens, you are better prepared to handle even the difficult or heartbreaking of transitions. Whether it’s being laid off, the loss of a loved one to old age or a long illness, or the end of a relationship, having time to prepare for it – whether metaphorically or practically – can ease its way into your awareness and acceptance. It’s when a big change is totally out of left field that we are more likely to feel unable to cope or accept it. When a seismic shift happens in someone’s life unexpectedly, it’s not uncommon to hear them say something along the lines of, “If I’d only seen it coming. . . .” Those “Doomsday Preppers” may not have a real clue of when the world is going to implode, but they know the value of being ready to face a nuclear disaster with bunkers well prepped for daily living.

Perceived Impact: What’s it Going to Set you Back?

Some of us dwell on the negative aspects of a situation and may even ruminate and magnify the negative effect of something that hasn’t even happened yet. Well, the truth of the matter is that if you’re afraid the change is going to have a sizable impact, it’s going to be more difficult for you to accept, even if the actual impact is smaller than expected. Making a mountain out of an anthill wastes energy and time that you could have been spending in a much more productive and pleasurable pursuit. However, if you’re pretty certain that the change is going to be minuscule, then the trepidation will be less significant, too. Perceived impact is directly proportionately to how well we’re able to embrace a change. So go ahead and not only “hope for the best,” but expect the best, too. So things turn out not as rosy as you’d hoped? That’s okay, just roll with the flow and accommodate the transition as best you are able.

How to Cope with Changes you Don’t Want?

  1. Make a plan with increasingly challenging steps for handling the transition. When you know what you need to do next, you regain your sense of direction and your purpose. Not only that, but checking off “baby steps” will give you tangible proof that you’re making progress in adjusting to the new situation. There’s a saying that success breeds success, and when you see that you’re actually moving forward, your belief in your ability to cope will grow and you’ll find yourself building steam. There may be days when you feel that you’re not moving as quickly as you did the day before, but recognize that change isn’t easy and transitions take a toll. Giving yourself permission to take a breather and catch your breath can be one more item that you check off your to-do list.
  2. Make meaning of the change to ease acceptance of the change. By assigning purpose to the event, it can be woven into your own personal story with intention – not just as an “interruption” or “disruption” of the normal order of things.
  3. Let go of preconceived notions about how things will be after the transition.
  4. Don’t fall into the trap, either, of idealizing what life was life “before” the transition.
  5. Reframe what’s happened – force yourself to find the positive aspects of the changes you’re experiencing.
  6. If this transition is inevitable, focus on moving through, not fighting against, the change.
  7. Give yourself time to grieve what you feel has been lost, but don’t let yourself get lost in the grief.
  8. Soothe yourself, but don’t pity yourself. Pity implies an inability to help oneself – remind yourself that you have the strength to move forward, even though it may seem difficult to do.
  9. Connect with someone who has been where you are today! By seeking support from those who’ve lived through what you are dealing with, you will benefit in multiple ways! Your own experiences will be normalized and they’ll offer evidence that while this change is hard, it can be managed.
  10. Human beings, for the most part, value familiarity and predictability – but when the world around us changes, we must be open to change, as well.