Whether it be graduating college, moving to a new city, starting a different job, or doing all three at once, transitions are rarely easy. Even when the changes are welcome, the unknown can be scary and anxiety-inducing.
On top of handling all that’s new, transitions force us to grieve as we say goodbye to old friends and environments. As we embark on new adventures, it’s often bittersweet to realize what we’re leaving behind.
Recently, I graduated from University of Michigan and moved across the country to Washington state. Before I arrived, I knew a total of one person here. It’s been a massive departure from my well-worn routine in college, where I walked the same paths daily, saw the same therapist for three years, and knew everyone in my 80-person program by name.
Despite the challenges my new situation poses, I know this transition is pushing me to grow and will ultimately lead to amazing experiences and relationships. If you’re going through a transition right now, be gentle with yourself. As difficult as it may be, it will likely be worth it. And, there are some things you can do to make it easier on yourself.
Practice (Extra) Self-Care
Self-care is always important, but especially so during a transition period when everything feels in flux. In between unpacking boxes or acquainting yourself with a new office, make sure you take time for yourself. Although self-care may look different for everyone, it should probably include:
- Getting enough sleep. Too much or too little sleep will have you feeling out of sorts, and make your adjustment feel all the more difficult. Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night so you can attack your days with energy.
- Moving your body. On top of the host of mental health benefits you get from exercise, it’s also a great activity to do solo. If you don’t have a bunch of friends in your new environment just yet, explore on your own via a long run or bike ride.
- Journaling. Transitions are bound to bring up lots of feelings of the good, bad, and in-between varieties. A journal can be a place to process these feelings outside your own head and give them a visual representation. It’s also nice to have these thoughts to look back on when you’re months down the road and able to reflect on how far you’ve come.
- Doing activities that bring you joy. It can be comforting to remember that, while you may be in a new city or job, you’re still you. Connect to the parts of yourself that you can access no matter where you are or who you’re with. This could be through art, music, time in nature, sports, or whatever brings you true joy.
Balance Old and New Relationships
As you navigate a transition, you absolutely should try to build new relationships. Your neighbors, co-workers, and friends of friends are all great places to start, and can help you build a network in your new environment. Though it may feel overwhelming, it’s helpful to remember all the friendships you cherish now were new at one point.
At the same time, it’s important to stay connected to your old support systems. While you may not physically be in the same place as your family and friends, keeping in touch via texts and calls can go a long way. These are the people who already know you deeply and are easy to talk to, so they can be amazing resources as you move through your transition.
“A good way to stay in touch with old support systems is to create family Friday or Sunday sunshine (for old friends that make you happy),” psychotherapist Cynthia Catchings said. “Those days are for you to communicate with them. You can always stay in touch with them any other day, but the day of the week reminder helps.”
Like most things, balance is key here. If you spend all your time talking to your old friends, you’ll miss out on opportunities to build new, meaningful relationships. If you focus exclusively on new friends, you risk losing important people who already know and love you. Strive to prioritize both, and let your circle of loved ones grow.
You might find yourself wanting to “fast forward” through the most challenging parts of a transition, wanting to get to the point where you feel comfortable and at home. While this desire is normal and understandable, patience is key.
Depending on how monumental your transition is, it’s unlikely you’ll feel totally at ease within the first few weeks. This is okay and won’t last forever. It can be helpful to remember the last time you went through a big transition — how difficult it may have been at first, and all the good that ultimately came of it.
However, patience should not be confused with masochism. How long people deal with “transition pains” depends on the person, but Catchings tells us it’s usually around 2-3 months. If you’re not seeing many positive changes or are still feeling anxious or depressed after 6 months, it may be the sign of something bigger.
“Adjustment disorder is real and not understanding it or having the help of a mental health professional to guide you through it can make the process more difficult,” Catchings said.
Seeing a therapist can make all the difference when navigating a challenging transition. With the help of a mental health professional, new and old support systems, and the knowledge that this will pass, you can and will move through it.
“Transitions make you stronger and wiser,” Catchings said. “You will do just fine and you will conquer this mountain too.”