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Therapy for Major Life Changes


Wooden blocks that spell out the word change

There are a million different life changes out there. But as an example, here are some significant ones many of us go through:

  • Moving away from a longtime, familiar area

  • Birth of a baby

  • Death of a loved one (anticipated or sudden)

  • Divorce, separation, or infidelity

  • Medical diagnosis (diabetes, cancer, etc.)

  • Becoming an empty nest

  • Marriage or moving in with a partner

  • Significant financial change (loss or gain)


The most difficult life transitions or changes to manage emotionally are often the ones you don’t expect. A sudden death of a loved one; an abrupt move across the country for a job change or to care for a family member; a literally life-changing medical diagnosis for yourself or for a spouse or child. All of these instances almost invariably trigger a cascade of anxiety, depression, overwhelm, panic, or even anger–sometimes all of the above at once!


For most of us, most of the time, we cruise through the little changes (the time of year, school getting out, growing older-I mean, WISER) and any uptick in stress generally doesn’t create much of a ripple beyond the surface. We’ve all dealt with small changes. But I’m talking about the BIG ones, like noted above. To be fair, even some of these big life transitions or events are taken in stride, or we get knocked down (or soar higher than we can manage for too long) and then it passes with some extra “mental health days” from school or work, or extra ice cream, drinks with friends, anything we might generally rely on to self-soothe.


Occasionally those techniques can cross over into a territory we shrinks sometimes refer to as “emotional numbing-out,” or when you want-or need-to step SO far away from your feelings about whatever it is you’re going through that you aren’t able to even see the horizon of your likely very appropriate emotional reaction to a big life event. Some might even call this process…resistance. (Stick a pin in that for another conversation.)


What I want to talk about in this blog is what to do when your go-to coping skills fail to smooth the biggest of the transitional bumps out and you find yourself…stuck.


The great news? You’ll have repeated opportunities to practice getting more adept at flexing through big life events in ways that strengthen your resilience beyond what you could ever imagine. The not-so-great news? Gaining resilience and growing can sometimes be a tad painful. But that’s where therapy helps.


  • Acknowledge how impactful this life event is for you and your circumstances.

Like I said above, EVERYONE has to deal with change. If you’ve somehow learned absolutely nothing since March 2020, I know you’ve learned to deal with change. (Nothing like a good old lockdown to flex the resilience muscles, right? Too soon for jokes?) Sometimes one of the best things you can do is just to recognize and say to yourself and to the ones you trust to support you that whatever you’re going through is just…plain…HARD. It’s totally normal to struggle with big things. Even the ones you started in motion yourself. Even the ones that are typically joyous, like getting married, or having a baby, or moving in with your partner. Even positive changes can create big emotional experiences that overwhelm.


If you try not to acknowledge that you’re having, well, a moment, sometimes the moment turns into more of a tidal wave that can threaten to drown you when you turn your back on it. And nobody wants that.


  • Self-care, self-care, self-care some more. LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK.

Maybe you’re into yoga and mindfulness. Maybe you like to run your stress out of your body by charging up with endorphins and sweat. Or maybe a carton of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and a few of those 80s rom-com movies are your go-to for relaxing and recalibrating. (If this is you, please call me for additional suggestions for both ice cream flavors AND movies. I have so.many.ideas.) Maybe you do all three of these examples in varying order.


Whatever is your preferred means of turning the volume down on your current stress spots, starting with your tried-and-true strategies is at least a place to begin decreasing the stress that comes with any big transition. Therapy for life transitions can also be a good source of new inspiration for self-care, for if or when these self-care options just don’t hit the same way as they used to.


  • Find your supports.

Your supports might be friends or family. They might be four-legged,

or have wings, or scales. (Or all of the above, if you happen to have a

dragon. And if you have a dragon, CALL ME RIGHT NOW.) Shoot, at

this point in life I’m not going to be shocked if a client tells me their

main source of support is AI. (So long as it’s being honest and

supportive, and not convincing you you’re doomed because you had a

big life shift.)


A note on getting support from folks in your immediate

circles: While friends and family can provide valuable emotional

support, therapy offers a unique space where you can freely express

your thoughts, fears, and aspirations without judgment. A therapist

provides a compassionate and objective perspective, offering insights

and tools to navigate the challenges that come with life transitions.


Of course, getting support from as many parts of your life as possible is the ideal. Supportive people help you regain perspective on your

experience of change, nudge you towards therapy if you aren’t already

in it, and cheer you on when you find your footing and are moving

forward.


  • (Re)find your coping skills and learn resilience.

Coping skills and resilience: you really can’t have one without gaining the other, in whichever direction you slice it. Life transitions (especially the major ones) often require us to adapt to new roles, responsibilities, and routines. New parent? New role. Just got married or divorced? Welcome to the new you! Got hired, fired, or recently retired? ALL THE NEW ROLES.


Adjusting to the new shoes you’ve just stepped in can be overwhelming, leaving anyone feeling vulnerable and unsure. Reviewing and revising and re-committing to your preferred healthy coping skills (and recognizing if there are any somewhat unhealthy ways you cope with change that might be starting to take up more space in your new life, and deciding what you want to do about that process) is a means of acquiring the resilience we all need to navigate change.


As I’ve said above, many of us go through myriad changes, big or small, without seeking therapy, but if or when the life transition proves too daunting and you need support, go get you a good therapist. Therapy helps you build healthy boundaries where needed, helps you improve communication skills to ask for what you need (or say to well-meaning supports what you DON’T need, as the case may be), enhances problem-solving strategies, and empowers you to work towards embracing these life events and big changes with confidence and grace.


  • Figure out what’s next for this phase of your life.

One thing that has always held true for me whenever I’ve dealt with a major life transition is that somewhere in the process of recalibrating myself and my life, I’ve gotten curious about what the latest change/upheaval/chaos means about what I’ll do or be next. Sometimes there are immediate ideas, but as I’ve gotten older it’s become more often the case that I don’t know what’s next, and I’m getting more comfortable with the ambiguity and the effort to live in the present moment instead of having to know all.the.answers. It’s nice to just…be.


If you’re not sure how to live more in the moment, especially with everything in flux for whatever YOUR big life change is, was, or is about to be, no problem. A solid combination of healthy coping skills, leaning on support people/animals/places, and a good therapist can boost your present-moment mindset and get you back on track to where you’d like to be.


I hope this was helpful for anyone looking to learn more about how to navigate big life transitions and/or to learn how therapy can help with those moments that have a lasting impact. As always, I’m reachable by phone or email if y’all have more questions; happy to be of use.


(Have more questions about how therapy with me can help with life transitions? Click here to learn more!)


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