It’s exciting to go through major life changes, whether that be moving into a new house, starting a job, landing that promotion, or getting married. But these significant life changes can be overwhelming and frightening. According to Dr. Jaime Zuckerman (a licensed clinical psychologist), “Change can bring with it feelings of uncertainty, loss of control, even when the change itself is positive. Our brains are creatures of habit and like to know what’s coming next. Our brains can become more anxious, worried, and sometimes even downright depressed when they don’t know what the next step will bring.”
It’s normal and healthy to feel happy and anxious at the same time about positive changes, according to Dr. Zuckerman. It’s not always easy to navigate. Below, Dr. Zuckerman and Nira Shah, LMHC, a psychotherapist and yoga instructor, offer some helpful tips for dealing with major life changes.
- Recognize Your Emotions
Shah advises that you acknowledge any uncomfortable emotions and let go of the need to mourn the end of a chapter in your life. Shah advises that you should be open to whatever feelings may arise without judgement and be curious rather than trying to eliminate them. Allow a grieving process. Reflect on the meaning of the past life phases, the lessons you have learned and your favorite moments.
- Explore the Worry Thoughts
It is important to recognize and release worry and “what-if” thoughts. Shah recommends that you imagine the worst-case scenario. Think about what you would do in the worst case scenario. What would you do? Shah suggests that you “play out the scenario until the end” and then think about how likely it is. Is there a realistic scenario? Let it go after you have fully considered it.
- Keep Your Eyes on the Big Picture
Shah suggests that you take a step back while going through the transitions, particularly in the planning phase. This will help you remember why it is happening. Keep your eyes on the possibilities it will offer. She says, “Balance each worry with something that you are excited about.”
- Take it one day at a time
You can make the transition easier by focusing on the moment and not letting the unknown of the future overwhelm you. Babba Rivera (Ceremonia founder, a Latinx-rooted hair care brand) said that her biggest life events were when she lost her brother and when she became a mother. Although one of these events was very devastating, the other was a joyful life moment. “I found that taking one day at a time was the best way to cope. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the feeling of being in the unknown. But breaking it down into weeks, days, or even hours was a great way to cope.”
- Keep to your routines
Our brains are wired to anticipate the future. Dr. Zuckerman suggests that you stick to your routine during life transitions. She says that having a schedule will reduce anxiety and uncertainty. To maintain some sense of normalcy, you can continue doing things like meeting up with friends for lunch on Wednesdays or going to spin class on Sundays.
Rivera credits her ability to stick to a routine for helping her manage major life changes, no matter how difficult or good. Rivera says that it is crucial to find a routine during times of change. This can serve as your only constant. “During times of change, my daily routine was a morning walk.”
- Take care of yourself
You are well aware of how important it is to take care of yourself every day. It becomes more important when you are going through major changes. While self-care is different for everyone, Dr. Zuckerman recommends that you regularly check in with your body to make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating right, and not becoming isolated. She says that it is crucial to pay attention to your overall health during times of change. “Preventing anxiety and/or depression by noticing these things sooner can help.”
Shah recommends that mindfulness is a key wellness practice. She explains that mindfulness can be used to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as a coping tool. It also helps one connect with the place or final stages of their departure by being fully present.
- Making the transition easier
Shah recommends that you do everything possible to make the transition smooth and easy. Shah says that this could include your support system helping, checking resources, taking breaks or breaking down the tasks into smaller steps.
Talking with someone who has gone through similar changes can be very helpful. They will often have wisdom to offer. Dr. Zuckerman suggests asking them questions about how they handled it, their emotions, what they would do differently and any information that might help you.
Shah suggests therapy for people who find it difficult to navigate change. It is never a bad idea to ask for help!