How to Cope with Transition and Change

Health Psychology Center

Throughout life, people can undoubtedly count on changes or transitional phases. Many of these transitions are positive; a marriage, birth of a child, winning the lottery, graduating from school. A few developments are negative; going through a break-up, death of a loved one, or living with a chronic illness. One factor related to success is that productive people are skilled at adapting to their fast paced ever evolving world. This ability to adapt points people on the path to leading a more satisfying, enriched fulfilled life.

Life Transitions and Letting Go

by Hartwig HKD on flickr

by Hartwig HKD on flickr

If someone is forced to change, even if unsatisfied in life, they are entering into the world of the unknown that may be even more anxiety provoking than the unsatisfied life. However, the choice of change is always available, and, those who do not have the ability to trust themselves may miss out on the opportunity to increase their quality of life.

Many people are afraid of change. They prefer routine and stability, and, with any kind of transition this change disrupts self-confidence. Fear inhibits people from taking risks. When fear relates to a positive change, it usually is linked to a fear of not being able to achieve success. Some are overly concerned about not being capable “enough” or of being judged, as if, dignity is only measured by their concept of success or winning.

Fear alerts us to danger. If people want to be able to cope well, they need to be open to the challenge of changing and questioning their thoughts feelings and beliefs that they have in life. One way to confront an illogical fear is to pretend that the worse scenario happened and then backtrack in the mind to logically solve the problem. Even though, this technique is a fantasy, you are learning a new way to problem-solve.

One inevitable transition in life is associated with maturity or growing older, and this change usually brings with it an isolated sensation linked to a sense of loss to what was once in the past. With each passage people must learn new ways of adapting, and, facing this new way of being in the world can be anxiety provoking because it tests our competence. To cope well with life, people will need to be open and at peace with questioning thoughts, feelings and beliefs about the world in which they live.

How to Cope and Challenge Thoughts

People have the freedom to change the way they think about a situation whenever they learn something new about the topic. Whether the change in thinking is effortless or not, depends upon ones’ ability to being open to the idea of learning something new, despite opposing thoughts on the subject. This concept may appear confusing, but people have to be open to learning something new about the topic, which in turn will change thinking. For example, most people feel pretty strongly about the idea of money bringing about happiness. The central question of happiness is: “What does it mean to be successful”. How many people can honestly say that if this question could be answered would they allow themselves to accept and follow the truth? The issue is how invested the individual, or a society is in holding onto old opinions, despite learning the latest information.

How to Cope and Challenge Beliefs

Challenging and changing a value or belief can be easier at times. The problem is people have thousands of ideas, and can only change one at a time, making this change a lengthy process. In order to challenge a belief, look at the evidence, examine the facts and then it may be easier for someone to change their mind about the conviction. For instance, some may assume that eating a Big Mac is somewhat of a healthy meal. However, they have recently read many books on nutrition, learning otherwise and now believe that this meal is not healthy. They changed their mind in the face of evidence.

How to Cope and Challenging Feelings

Challenging feelings can be extremely difficult, especially when adapting to change or a life transition, in comparison to changing thoughts and beliefs. Feeling states accumulate over a lifetime of experience, and, trying to change a feeling can seem like it is going against everything the person has ever believed in life. They have convinced themselves that what they feel is reasonable and must be a necessary part of life. We all have met someone who is chronically afraid, angry or sad, and characterize them in this way because their constant unpleasant mood states can be observed in most of their actions and behaviors. Negative feelings are the cumulative effects of experiences in life, and, the challenge is to accumulate new positive events to offset the negative. Because it takes time and effort to change these feelings people need to become open to the idea of wanting new, positive experiences and then invite them into their lives. These individuals must give themselves permission to allow these positive experiences to enhance their life. It is possible to change beliefs and thoughts with information and teaching; however, it is hard to change a feeling state without professional assistance.

Taking on the Challenge to Cope with the Transition
by Hartwig HKD Creative Commons

by Hartwig HKD
Creative Commons

I would like readers to understand that for something new to happen in life there is something lost. Welcoming change means accepting the blunders that are made along the way. People who do not allow themselves to make mistakes, will not be able to adapt well with life transitions, and will not be able to enjoy living life to its fullest extent. What is certain is that all of us are going to be forced to adapt to change throughout life, as transitions are a guarantee, until the day we die. People have the internal ability to gain that sense of control of life’s changes because of having the choice to learn different ways of coping. For more information, read the book, Health Psychology for Everyday Life!

Live Well

© Dr. Cheryl MacDonald

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Health PsychologyCheryl Ann MacDonald, Psy’D.

Health Psychology of San Diego