We all go through adjustments and transitions in our lives and are constantly adapting to these changes. Some of these changes we expect to find stressful. Going through a relationship break-up, experiencing the death of someone close to us or losing our job are examples of difficult changes we encounter at various points in lives and that we expect to find stressful and difficult to cope with.
Sometimes, however, we also find that transitions that we have actively planned for and looked forward to—like starting a sought after new job, retiring from work, getting married, or completing a course of study—much more stressful, and difficult to cope with than we had predicted. At these times we can be caught by surprise that instead of feeling jubilant and happy, the change prompts feelings of unhappiness and anxiety.
This can be especially difficult to deal with if friends and family are expecting you to be in a celebratory mood, and find it hard to understand why you are not experiencing the good feelings about the change that you and they had predicted. Yet, it is very normal that life transitions that are presented in the media as ‘good things’ to happen can stir feelings which feel destabilising and anxiety provoking. This is because all changes bring into view questions about ourselves and our relationships with others that we may not have asked before. Rather than being able to welcome the change, we feel stuck in a place of mourning the old way of being, and destabilised by the questions about our life that can be prompted by the change.
Completing a course of study is a good example. It is something that most students look forward to—the end of coursework and stressful assessments. Yet, once a course has been successfully completed, some graduates find themselves feeling unaccountably flat, and unsettled. It’s as if all the routines they have developed, and the energy they have expended in order to complete the course fizzle away, and they are left wondering–where to now?
Talking through the good and bad feelings about how we experience change is important, because otherwise we get stuck with having to present a cheerful front, which can make understanding and moving through the more difficult feelings that have been stirred up by the transition even more problematic.