How To Handle Transitions With More Ease
Since the dawn of humanity, the unknown meant danger — and quite literally, a real threat to our survival. Our nervous system is designed to keep us safe, and oftentimes, that’s where our resistance to change stems from. Even when there’s no real threat, our bodies can associate change with a lack of stability and security. But today, that intense fear we feel in our body when faced with change isn’t always warranted.
There are obviously all different kinds of transitions — sometimes the change is acute and abrupt, and other times it’s slow and steady over time; sometimes it’s elective and self-initiated, and other times it’s just a consequence of evolution or growth that’s entirely out of our control. Regardless of the circumstance, what is always in our control is how we respond.
When change occurs, we can try to swim against the current or ride the wave. Even with changes we don’t want, we have choices. We can choose to use our feelings as catalysts. Even our heaviest emotions provide valuable information.
As I experience a transitional period of my own, what has been working for me is to lean in, acknowledge what’s happening without attaching a meaning of “bad” or “wrong,” and ask myself:
What am I feeling?
What’s my vision for my life?
What do I need? Where do I want this transition to lead me?
How can I ride this wave and direct it where I want it to go?
For the things we can’t change, we can change how we relate to them and what we think they mean about us.
My feelings don’t scare me because I don’t make them mean that something’s wrong. I see any sadness or grief as fuel for growth and opportunity for action. When I’m tempted to resist the new direction, my need to feel better outweighs my fear of change. So, whether it’s taking action to incite change, or adopting a new perspective on something that’s out of your control, you have a choice.
For the things in our control that seem scary, we can reflect and choose a new mindset, approach, or action. Even when a change is unwanted, look at how you can use it to fuel your journey. That reframe not only eases the fear, but it actually catalyzes the change into an unexpected vehicle for movement. Then it becomes a blessing — something that propels you forward.
One way to practice this is through mindfulness. For example: You might want to take a solo trip to Europe, enroll in an improv class, or try online dating. All of those things may evoke an experience of fear in their newness. You might notice an adrenaline rush at the thought or declaration of that desire.
The first step is to notice: “My heart is racing about this idea of change, what can I do to calm my nervous system down?” Equally important is being open to re-evaluating your body’s initial response. In this case, maybe the fear is more egoic. In other words, instead of immediately assigning our bodily sensations to the kind of healthy fear that’s meant to protect us in a real threat, consider that this release of adrenaline is actually a form of excitement.
That shift in context can help us move through the experience we’re having with the courage to explore next steps. It can help to focus on baby steps as opposed to “future tripping” about the outcome or all the details in between. We can override the freeze state by saying yes to things — even just as a practice of getting beyond our discomfort.
I used this method to open my former flower essence shop (and for every venture since). It was something I wanted deeply, but I was terrified. I had no business experience back then, so I thought, “Who’s gonna come into my store? No one even knows what flower essences are?” But I couldn’t ignore my intuition and my desire for that change to occur. So, I took the next step that didn’t terrify me — driving up and down the street looking at storefronts. I also shared about it in conversation, which was helpful (and not terrifying). Then, I trusted in the Universe that with each step I took, the next step would show up and I would have a choice on which direction to go. And, it did.
In summary, here are some mindfulness practices you can turn to when facing or desiring change:
Notice how you feel in your body when thinking about certain things you do/don’t want.
If you feel fear, is there room to shift the context toward excitement?
Either way, how can you get grounded in your body?
Can you be with and move through your unwanted emotions without making them wrong?
What do you need/want? How can you move closer to the vision for your life?
Release the “all or nothing” mindset and consider, “What’s the next small step I can take that’s not terrifying?”
When you don’t feel like you have agency in transitions, the experience is that something is happening TO you, which can make you feel helpless. But, when you take hold of your ability to make decisions in the process, it becomes a proactive process of creating your next chapter. That’s something worth celebrating, even when it’s uncomfortable.