Navigating Life Transitions with Grace
Navigating life transitions with grace isn’t easy. Especially when we live in a grief phobic- fast paced world. Whether it’s a move, a new job, becoming a parent, marrying your partner or a newly diagnosed illness- we are expected to move on. We are expected to jump to our to-do list or pull out some kind of solutions guide.
What if I told you- this cultural expectation is what adds to the groundless feeling that all life transitions entail? Whether the transition is desired or not, scary or exciting, big or small, ALL transitions come with one thing in common… anxiety.
Why is that? Because with any transition, we are walking into new territory. We are suddenly face-to-face with the inherent uncertainty of all life phases. Uncertainty breeds anxiety- especially in the highly sensitive personality (often a deeply empathetic, intelligent, creative and introverted person). We have a choice when we are faced with uncertainty: avoid it, try to control it or embrace it. The first two- will only make you MORE anxious in the long run. We can avoid it by procrastinating, pushing down any emotions that arise, dissociating with substances and/or using any kind of self harm behavior. Eventually, the emotions surface anyways and usually stronger. We may try to control it by learning everything there is to know about the type of transition we are going through. For example: if you’re getting married, you might become obsessed with knowing every single theory on what makes a marriage last a lifetime (I’ve done this- so no shame if this is you)! It might make us feel more in control in the short term, however, it comes at a high cost (stress) and doesn’t actually ever change the inevitable.
Both of these reactions are normal- we, as humans, don’t like to sit in discomfort. However, embracing the discomfort and engaging in healthy grounding techniques that allow you to honor your emotions and drop out of the ‘thinking’ space is what actually allows us to move through transitions with grace. Grace doesn’t mean it won’t be painful. Grace does mean you will compassionately and consciously tend to your needs throughout the process.
Whenever I am going through a big life transition- I ground myself by remembering that transitions are embedded in the life cycle. They are happening all around us. They happen in the seasons as they change from Fall to Winter. They happen in the 24 hour light-dark cycle of dusk and dawn. They happen to the flowers in the neighbor’s garden. They are natural, normal and we are made to go through them. I remember that just like the season of Fall, when the leaves die and fall off the trees; all transitions come with grief. Every transition comes with letting go of something- an idea, material items, a past version of ourselves, people, places, etc. If we do not slow down to honor this grief- anxiety rears it’s head and morphs into panic, hyper-vigilance, insomnia and/or irritability.
Anxiety is a great protector of big, scary emotions. The paradox is, when we drop into the feelings, when we embrace the grief, anxiety melts away. When I got married, I grieved the loss of my single identity. On Sundays, I often grieve the loss of the unstructured weekend. Even though I love my partner and love my job- these feelings emerge. I’ve learned to let them flow. I’ve learned to let the sadness arise, to feel it, to hold it and to honor it. I think of everyone in the world who might possibly be feeling how I feel, and I send them all peace and courage. This softens my sadness as I am able to realize I am not alone. Everyone is going through some kind of transition and just like the seasons, we are made to do this.
After you honor the grief it’s time to sit in quiet reflection. Just like in nature, after the leaves all fall from the trees, it’s time for stillness. Winter begins. A period of quiet, self reflection. A limbo time where the old leaves are gone but the new leaves haven’t sprouted yet. This is often the phase of the transition where we worry: “Did I make the wrong choice? Why am I not instantly happier? Why is this so uncomfortable?” Yet, there is no wrong choice. Again, anxiety is rearing its head protecting us from another big emotion: fear of the unknown. Instead of trying to find certainty, allow yourself to not have all the answers. Let go of the expectation that you should suddenly be happy and ecstatic about the transition. Transitions come with a mixed bag of emotions, so if your feelings feel like a rollercoaster ride- that’s normal!
As you continue to acknowledge your grief, emotions and embrace the ‘in between’ time- the time where you’ve let go of your past self/moved to a new city/ended a job- eventually you will arise into Spring. Eventually, something new is born. A new part of you. A new community. A new passion. A new relationship. A new chapter of life. Spring comes budding in with excitement and energy. Finally, you get to the gold. Finally, things start to get clearer and easier. This part always comes but you cannot rush it and you cannot skip the hard feelings. If you try to numb your way out of the feelings stage- you will miss the beauty of Spring too. You will numb out the joy, ease and clarity, too.
If you’re in the midst of a transition right now- I see you. Compassionately tend to all your emotions and needs through this process and I promise, grace is just around the corner.