Unearthing the Struggles of Transition

By Megan Brewer IMH

Transitions are often difficult for many people. Whether we are changing jobs, moving to a new city, moving up in a grade or changing schools, the transitions we experience impact us. These transitions impact us on many levels, but most of us only pay attention to a fraction of the change happening around us and inside of us during these times.

What makes transitions feel so difficult has to do in part with how we learned to function in our space previous to the transition. Our body and brain were designed to adapt and mold around our environment, including our relationships, roles and everyday schedules. The longer we spend in an environment, the more our brain wires to the experiences we have there. Our bodies also adjust to the new wiring of our brain and learn to navigate our surroundings as a result. When we leave that familiar environment and transition to a new one permanently, it takes time for our brain and body to rework itself around our new surroundings.

On a simpler level, we can see pieces of our experience in transition taking place with the transplanting of a plant into a new environment. In order to move and relocate a plant, it first must be uprooted from the soil it has adapted to live in. The soil it knows has been its source of nutrients and life and the size of its pot determined its height and breadth. The temperature surrounding it caused the plant to grow more at one time and remain dormant in another. The environment determined much about the identity of the plant.

Now let’s say it is time for the plant to move a great distance from where it was living originally. In the process of moving, not only was our plant pulled up from the familiarity of its home in the dirt, but it was shaken around in the process to release large portions of the familiar dirt from its roots. This is a very unpleasant experience and is quite shocking for the plant. Once a new location is chosen and a new hole dug for the roots, the plant is now left to adjust to a new environment. Perhaps the plant now lives in a very different climate where it rains less and the sun is out often. Or maybe it went from being an outdoor plant to living indoors because the harsh conditions of the new location would not be conducive for growth. Perhaps the soil content is not the same and the leaves of the plant begin to change in hue. At first it could appear that the plant might not survive the jarring experience. But slowly and steadily, it adjusts and takes on a new life in a new place.

As people, we were designed to sustain and even thrive with transition, but this does not negate the jarring adjustment that is necessary for our internal system to learn a new form of regulation. With each new change, our brain must make connections to find experiences that are similar to old ones and work on creating new pathways for the ones that are too far outside our original experiences. The more severe the transition, the more work you will have to do in order to thrive in your new environment.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to process a transition that can either help you thrive and grow as a result or can get you stuck and stunt your growth. One sure way to stunt the growth potential in a transition is to expect yourself to go on as if nothing had changed and ignore the struggles that are a normal part of change.

Acknowledging the difficulty of transition and the unique ways it impacts you is the first step in moving through the replanting process. Below are some helpful steps to get you started:

  1. Give yourself permission to adjust - it is normal to experience discomfort, frustration, sadness and fear when adjusting to something new. Pretending like you are not experiencing your emotions will only cause them to get stuck. When we give ourselves permission to feel the weight of our adjustment, then we can make better decisions about what we need to care for and thrive well in the process.
  2. Invest in healthy activities that make you feel like you - transition can move us away from people, interests, hobbies and activities that make us feel normal. Spend some time reflecting on what you used to do before the transition and brainstorm ways you can incorporate those things into your new environment.
  3. Know where you’ve been - it’s hard to know what you’re becoming if you don’t know who you’ve been. Think through and write down what you used to do, think about or feel in your old environment. Compare the list to one you make of what you do, think and feel now in your new environment. Where can adjustments be made and experiences added or subtracted to make you feel more normal or move you towards growth?
  4. Grieve the losses of what you left behind - losing the people, places, activities and objects that are important to us deserve to be grieved well. Even if your transition was towards something good or better, there are still losses from what was left behind. Take time to acknowledge what you lost. What made the things or people you lost important in your life?

Transitions can feel difficult and overwhelming. The larger the transition, the more difficult the adjustment process can be. If you feel like a transition has made it difficult for you to thrive or has caused distressing symptoms, it would be helpful to talk with a counselor. They can help you process through the difficulty of your transition and learn to thrive in your new surroundings.

To schedule an appointment with Megan Brewer,
Please call our office at 407-647-7005.

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