Change is tough, and life transitions – such as moving to a new area, transitioning into or out of a relationship, adjusting to parenting for the first time, or changing careers – can be difficult.
It’s normal, even adaptive, to feel a certain amount of stress in the midst of a transition. Our bodies and minds are adjusting to a new way of being, and that period of change may feel unsettling and uncomfortable.
Sometimes, however, the period of transition gets in the way of one’s daily life and a healthy lifestyle. In such instances, the feelings that accompany transitions can become serious enough to call for further examination.
Effects on mental health
While “life transitions” is not a clinical diagnosis itself, troubles adjusting to the transitions can prove difficult and changes can lead to diagnosable mental health conditions, including:
- Adjustment disorder - An emotional or behavioral reaction to a stressful event or change in a person's life. The reaction is considered an unhealthy or excessive response to the event or change within months of it happening.
- Major depressive disorder - When feelings of sadness or hopelessness become especially frequent, intense, or long-lasting, they can interfere with one’s daily life activities.
- General anxiety disorder - Anxiety disorder entails excessive, repeated bouts of worry, anxiety, and/or fear. When worrying and anxious mood becomes the go-to response to everyday situations, it becomes debilitating.
Adjustment disorders might be diagnosed in someone who becomes more distressed by a change than they might have expected, especially if this stress gets in the way of their relationships, jobs, schoolwork, or life goals for months after the transition has resolved.
Both children and adults may be diagnosed with a mental health disorder after changes in life occur. The following life transitions are examples of scenarios that may affect mental health such as:
- New marriage or divorce
- Family crisis
- Serious illness
- The birth of a child
- Financial problems
- New job or loss of a job
- Significant changes in middle age
Indications of trouble adjusting to a life transition
Difficulties adjusting to a life transition may cause symptoms similar to those during other stressful experiences.
These may include:
- Low energy
- Depressed or anxious mood
- Upset stomach
- Frequent colds and infections
- Significant decrease of sex drive
- Either loss of appetite, or increased appetite
- Feeling generally overwhelmed
- Reckless or dangerous behavior
- Tendency to socially isolate oneself
What to do if you're having trouble adjusting
When faced with a life transition, it can be helpful to learn self-care techniques and normal coping mechanisms to better manage the resulting major life stress.
These coping strategies for life transitions include:
- Mindfulness and meditation: During a transition, take time to observe your thoughts and learn a breathing routine that can calm you when stress sets in.
- Leaning on your support network: Asking for help from those who have supported you in the past can be helpful through new challenges. Having a support system of friends and family members is helpful.
- Therapy: Find a therapist who can help you navigate your life changes with proven tools and techniques.
And, as always, while adjusting to your new reality be easy on yourself: drink plenty of water and eat well, get enough sleep each night, and find time for exercise.
How to look for a therapist for life transitions
Seek someone who's helped clients in similar situations
When addressing the struggles of new circumstances, look for a therapist who specializes in the type of life transition you’re experiencing – whether it’s adjusting to a new city, transitioning from college to work life, starting a new job, marriage or divorce, personal crisis, or navigating new parenthood. A variety of talk therapy styles can be helpful for someone amid a particularly unsettling period of transition and overwhelming stress.
Consider different therapy types for treatment
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a common therapy modality that addresses the thoughts and feelings that different events trigger, can help with negative thought patterns and the accompanying negative feelings that may develop.
Group therapy with a group of people going through something similar can also be helpful to find support, explore coping strategies, and learn from others who have been there themselves.
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.