By Dr Sima Patel
“The future is called ‘perhaps,’ which is the only possible thing to call the future.
And the important thing is not to allow that to scare you.” Tennessee Williams
September is a time of transitions for many people. Transitions include returning to work after a summer holiday, starting a new school, college or university, taking a gap year, not knowing what to do as Plan A did not materialise or the promotion did not come through or the job that was going to be available just is not anymore. On top of that some situations are imposed on us – sudden layoff from a job, sudden change in health, unwanted and uninitiated breakups in relationships and so on.
All these transitions have an impact on our emotions and our coping abilities. Over the next two issues, some understanding of the impact will be explored and some coping strategies will be suggested.
Some people thrive on change and find the whole experience exciting. Some people are able to deal with even negative change with optimism and courage. For others, there can be a peculiar feeling that often accompanies change. It resides on the continuum of excitement and anxiety, elation and dread, and depending on the hour, can leap from one extreme to the other. This feeling can settle deeper in our stomach as lingering low-grade worry.
The following areas tend to be disrupted when we go through transitions: Routines, Roles, Reactions, Relationships and Reflections about ourselves. The September article will look at the first two of these areas.
Routines provide us with predictability so that we can feel safe and secure and know where we stand. Routines and rituals at work, home, social life or during play promote adjustment, foster a sense of belonging and are vital for the psychological wellbeing of individuals and membership of any group. During a period of transition, routines and rituals undergo change and this can result in feelings of not being grounded or anchored. Some of our routines and rituals are in place to protect us and act as buffers against negative life experiences such as meditation, gardening and yoga. It is therefore imperative that we try to maintain those that we can during periods of transitions whilst new routines and rituals develop and have time to settle. This can help us to better adapt to the new situation.
Try some of the following coping strategies if you are going through transition and your routines and rituals are undergoing change:
Keep some of the old routines going where possible.
Make a list of new routines / rituals / experiences you would like to take part in for this new phase of your life and start on the one that feels the most right to you at this moment in time. Change the route to work or the shops or where you walk to give your senses a chance to adjust to changes; even small changes can make a big difference to how you feel.
Choose hobbies that can help you relax into your new routines.
Realise that establishing new routines and rituals and dealing with change takes time and your emotions will fluctuate during the transition period.
Do something spontaneous and take up a last minute invitation on a regular basis so that you are not dependent on any set routine or ritual: think of what fun a new unscheduled experience could be. The balance between feeling safe and secure and having courage and excitement are important to embrace if you want to make the most of life or even to just feel a sense of contentment.
We all play a role in any situation and context and our roles are part of our identities. They give us meaning and purpose, while enhancing our resources, social connections and sense of fulfilment. Some research suggests that the more roles we have the greater health and psychological wellbeing we will have. Some transitions result in wider personal and professional responsibilities which can result in wonderful anticipation, excitement, joy and reward.
However, this is not always the case as if our role changes because we have to deal with loss of important people in our lives including children leaving home, or the passing away of loved ones or suddenly caring for more people than we used to, or going from employed to unemployed and so on, different sets of feelings can be triggered: pressure, defensiveness, anxiety, worry, fear. These moods can leave us feeling unbalanced and unearthed. Balancing the roles we take on is therefore important to our resilience and dealing with transitions.
Try the following coping strategies and see what happens:
Gain clarity on your new roles and responsibilities as quickly as possible.
Reflect on the roles that you are no longer fulfilling and give yourself time to let go of those even if this means having some quiet space and shedding some tears or jumping for joy. Letting go of the roles we are used to, even as simple as not putting someone else’s laundry away anymore, can trigger feelings of acute loss, unless of course, you hated that role anyway.
Manage expectations on how to live out the new roles so that both you and everyone else around you have time to adjust. After all, it can take time to adjust to one or the other of you suddenly getting a new motorbike and all the gear that goes with it when you are normally used to sharing a short bike ride together in the countryside.
Start carrying out your new role slowly but surely so that you can adjust to it effectively over time.
• Make time to reflect on the changes every now and then and look for the signs that tell you how well you are doing even if the transition takes place slowly.
Ask your friends, family, peers or colleagues what positive differences they see in you so that you know you are coping and managing the transition to the best of your ability, even if there are lapses.
Enjoy any aspect of the new role or environment that you can so that you focus on the good things that are coming through as a result of the transition, especially for those that are unwanted or feel negative.
Find the comedy in the new role and sit back and laugh at your role every now and then if you can. September is a wonderful month for sunrises and sunsets in Sussex so good luck with dealing with the month of transitions whilst the sun shifts as well.