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Dealing with Life Transitions and How Therapy Can Help

Life’s transitions bring both anticipation and apprehension. Understand their impact and discover ways to navigate them with resilience. Grow Therapy offers support and guidance through these changes.

Therapist Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta By Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, LMHC

Updated on May 12, 2024

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Many experience significant transitions in life that are difficult to navigate. The American Psychological Association reports that about 27% of American adults are too stressed to function properly on most days. Whether it’s retirement, relocating to a new place, divorce, or another form of change, transitions commonly cause uncertainty, stress, and anxiety.

However, therapy can be essential for navigating life transitions and managing the related stress and emotions. This article discusses life transitions, coping mechanisms, how counseling can help, and what to expect in a counseling session.

What Are Life Transitions?

Life transitions are periods when people experience a significant change in their lifestyle. They can be caused by significant events that make it necessary to stop, evaluate, adjust, and develop skills to cope with new experiences. 

According to Kristian Wilson, a licensed mental health counselor at Grow Therapy, “Life transitions are changes in a person’s life needing them to adapt and adjust. They can be personal, like marriage or divorce. They can also be professional, like losing your job or landing a new one. Other major life transitions, such as moving, retiring, or entering the ‘empty nest’ phase of life, may cause a significant amount of stress.”

While transitioning to a new lifestyle may seem smooth, people may have challenges adjusting. Life transitions may be planned or unplanned and have positive and negative implications. Significant life changes that may make it hard for you or a loved one to adjust include:

New Job or Loss of a Job

Job transitions can be challenging to handle; they can bring a lot of uncertainties and interference with your routine.

While landing a new job can be exciting, it can also be stressful. Adjusting to new routines, protocols, and policies may feel exhausting and hard to deal with. Also, familiarizing yourself with new colleagues with different expectations can be challenging.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 1.2% of American workers were fired in March 2023. Losing a job is hard to deal with and often results in stress and anxiety. It doesn’t only affect your finances but also may influence how you see yourself. Employment usually brings a sense of purpose and meaning; losing it through being let go can be difficult to cope with.

Empty Nest

Empty nest syndrome is a stressful transition affecting your mental health and overall well-being. While parents encourage and foster their children into adulthood, they develop mixed reactions that are hard to adjust to, affecting their daily life. While a child moving out of the home is often exciting, parents may develop sadness, anxiety, grief, or other challenges while adjusting. 

New Baby

While having a new baby is exciting, it often brings stressors that can be exhausting for parents and caregivers. The demands accompanying a new baby can cause strain and are hard to adjust to. Hence, a newborn will require utmost care, including feeding and soothing them to sleep. As a result, parents and caregivers may have sleep deprivation that can affect their emotional and physical well-being.

Gender Identity Changes

Transitioning from one gender to another is a significant life change that can be difficult to cope with. Acknowledging your gender affects your emotional wellness as you question societal expectations. Additionally, expressing your new identity may attract rejection and hostility from others, which could lead to stress.

Other common life transitions that may make it hard for an individual to cope with include the following:

Types of Life Transitions

Transitions may be expected or happen spontaneously. The four major types of life changes include the following:

Anticipated Transitions

These are changes that you expect will happen later in life. For instance, a teenager hopes to join a university after high school and eventually secure a job. Anticipated transitions can foster the potential for learning and development if they happen as expected.

Unanticipated Transitions

These are unplanned life changes, like car accidents or losing a job. While these transitions are stressful, the learning potential is often greater than anticipated transitions.

Sleeper Transitions

Sleeper transitions occur gradually with little awareness around them. For example, you may slowly develop the skills required to accomplish a task at work, resulting in a promotion. However, sleeper transitions can also be negative, like when you’re demoted from your job due to a prolonged lack of attentiveness.

Non-Event Transitions

These are transitions that don’t occur as you had hoped for. For instance, you may fail to proceed to college or miss a promotion even after working hard.

Impacts of Life Transitions

Life transitions may affect an individual both positively and negatively. 

Positive Impacts of Change

Negative Impacts of Change

Adverse effects of life transitions include the following:

Tips for Overcoming Life Transitions

While life transitions can be overwhelming, knowing how to control them can help promote overall well-being. So, if you are going through difficult changes, the following are essential coping skills that you can observe:

Get a Support System

A support system is one of the most effective coping mechanisms when experiencing a major life change. Whichever life change you are going through, a support system can help boost your emotions and overcome the pain.

So, turn to a family member, a life transition therapist, or an online community. Also, look for others who have been through a similar event so they can share therapy tips for overcoming your situation.

Don’t Forget Your Life Goals

Focusing on your life goals allows you to view a transition as a challenge, not a threat. With a positive outlook, you’ll be able to face unexpected changes while orienting yourself toward the future by frequently examining your goals.

Maintain Self-Care

Integrating healthy lifestyle habits into your routine is vital for overcoming the stress of life transitions and improving your mental health. So, have a balanced diet, sleep well, and take frequent walks.

Also, enjoy the benefits of exercising by including it in your daily routine. Activities like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help boost emotions, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.

What is Life Transition Counseling?

Life transition counseling focuses on helping people learn the coping skills and mechanisms necessary to navigate these life changes.

Benefits of Life Transition Counseling

Life transition counseling provides several benefits to people experiencing emotionally draining life events. They include the following:

Offers Support

Life transition counseling allows you to share your stressful life events. Also, a life transition counselor offers guidance and counseling on how to overcome these events.

Encourages Personal Growth

Through life transition counseling, a therapist helps you reflect on your values, strengths, and passions. Additionally, you can identify new possibilities, set achievable life goals, and work on your self-improvement.

Promotes Self-Awareness

Life transition counseling allows you to reflect on your emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as you experience these life-changing events. As a result, you’ll better understand yourself, allowing a smooth transition.

Helps to Manage Stress

Life transitions, whether positive or negative, can be stressful. However, life transition counseling sessions can help you learn coping strategies to manage stress and improve overall health.

Who Should See a Life Transition Counselor?

Wilson adds, “Those who have difficulties coping with life transitions may speak to a therapist. It can help them improve and adjust to changes they cannot control.”

Life transition counseling is also an option if you are experiencing an adjustment disorder after a stressful life event. Adjustment disorders can affect how you feel, how you view yourself, those around you, and the world.

So, if you or a loved one have the following signs and symptoms after a life event, it’s time for life transition counseling:

What to Expect in a Life Transition Counseling Session

The ultimate goal of life transition counseling is to help you overcome the emotionally taxing life changes you’re experiencing. Your therapist will also guide you on the best skills to cope with the adjustment period.

A therapist will also use suitable treatment techniques to ensure expected results are attained. Common strategies used in life transition therapy include the following:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Also known as CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy aims at assessing thinking patterns and behaviors that lead to specific problems in an individual’s life. Additionally, it focuses on your current moments and what will happen in the future rather than what happened in the past.

In a life transition counseling session, cognitive behavioral therapy helps you to navigate the problems faced during a significant life change. Additionally, your counselor will help you understand life stages and set achievable life goals through CBT.

Family Therapy

Life transition counselors may use family therapy to address changes affecting the dynamics of your interpersonal relationships. For instance, a counselor may use this technique to manage an empty nest, divorce, moving, or losing a loved one.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

According to the American Psychological Association, emotion-focused therapy helps you to be aware of your emotions and use them to improve your relationships. It lets you focus on your emotions’ effects on your relationship and address existing attachment patterns.

Additionally, emotionally focused therapy can improve communication skills and manage stress and anxiety.

Get a Life Transition Therapist Today

Whether positive or negative, life transitions may lead to confusion, anxiety, stress, or depression. Coping with these emotionally taxing experiences can help promote your health and well-being. Life transition counseling can be a helpful tool for anyone going through a difficult transition. Your counselor will use the best techniques to help you live with the changes and prepare a way forward.

You may benefit from a counseling session if you or a loved one is struggling with a life transition. At Grow Therapy, we can help secure a therapist who’ll take you through counseling and ensure you progress in your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Therapist Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta, LMHC

Dr. Jaclyn Gulotta is a licensed mental health counselor with over 10 years of experience in the mental health field. She helps individuals overcome numerous issues, including stress and anxiety disorders, self-esteem issues, relationship issues, depression, behavioral issues, and grief.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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