Chuck and Nancy were a highly motivated pair, often referred by friends and family as a “power couple.” They were incredibly successful in business and law respectively, crazy about one another, and active in the local political scene. No one was terribly surprised when they left their small suburban community for the big city last year so that Chuck could start another new business. Yet, with all of their outward success, they both knew there were a few holes in their armor as a couple, and when the pressure of their new move began to mount, they began to feel the impact as a result. Nancy quickly got connected with a local law firm and was feeling good about her social connections, but Chuck was having a more difficult time making friends since he was so busy trying to get his new business off the ground. What’s more, since both of them were so busy, there was precious little time to nurture their relationship. Both were beginning to wonder whether the move had been a mistake.
Jonie was an attractive 40-something who’d recently been promoted to the directorship of the medium-sized non-profit she’d worked at for 8 years prior. Since that bump, she’d been inundated with feelings of self-doubt and anxiety at both the increased workload and her suspicions that she may not have what it takes to run the entire show, even though there was virtually no indication that she ought to feel that way if her performance was any indication — the board of directors was more than pleased with her efforts, and had no time believing that any short-term hiccups were simply a result of the transition. But after a recent phone call with a large donor didn’t go as planned, she broke out in a cold sweat and felt as though she was going to faint. Being the boss wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and somewhat against her own will, she began cruising Linked In for jobs.
Alex had been a remarkable student all the way through high school and college, and he reveled in succeeding at school and life both. Not only was he the president of the Student Government Association, but he’d secured a scholarship based strictly on merit that carried him through his Bachelor’s degree debt free. Graduate school, on the other hand, had proved more challenging. Though he secured an assistantship that paid for his tuition and books, he’d taken on a job waiting tables to pay for room and board. As a result, between his assistantship, his job, and the increased writing and reading load, he found little time to take care of himself. What’s more, he didn’t have the same kind of community and family support he’d taken for granted in his younger days. By the end of his first semester of grad school, he’d gained twenty pounds and was having difficulty sleeping.
Transition is Difficult for Most People
You probably already know this, but most people need to hear it anyhow — transition is hard! Most folks struggle to make any sort of major life transition. And in fact, people who have been highly skilled in prior roles/situations may struggle even more because they don’t anticipate how difficult new situations can be. Learning to respond to transition can be a slow, arduous process, and sometimes, people need help.
Some Adjustments More Difficult Than Others?
Empirical research about the nature of life transition has been undertaken over the past twenty years, and has a lot to say about what transitions are the most difficult to make. Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe of the University of Washington came up with the Social Readjustment Scale, a checklist for people to help gauge the severity of the items they’ve been going through along their way to life transition.
Peruse the checklist below to determine which transitions you’ve recently gone through. If you score a 40 or higher, you could benefit from Nashville therapy, and if you score a 60 or higher you should contact a Nashville therapist immediately.
Stressful Life Events
|Death of Spouse||100|
|Death of close family member||63|
|Personal injury or illness||53|
|Fired at work||47|
|Change in health of family member||44|
|Gain of new family member||39|
|Change in financial state||38|
|Death of close friend||37|
|Change to a different line of work||36|
|Change in number of arguments with spouse||35|
|Mortgage over $40,000||31|
|Foreclosure or mortgage or loan||30|
|Change in responsibilities at work||29|
|Son or daughter leaving home||29|
|Trouble with in-laws||29|
|Outstanding personal achievement||28|
|Spouse begins or stops work||26|
|Begin or end school||26|
|Change in living conditions||25|
|Revision of personal habits||24|
|Trouble with boss||23|
|Change in work hours or conditions||20|
|Change in residence||20|
|Change in schools||20|
|Change in recreation||19|
|Change in church activities||19|
|Change in social activities||18|
|Mortgage or loan of less than $40,000||17|
|Change in number of family get-togethers||15|
|Change in sleeping habits||15|
|Change in eating habits||15|
|Single person living alone||*|
(NOTE: According to the researchers who constructed this scale, if your score is 300 or more, statistically you stand an almost 80% chance of your mental health being negatively impacted in the near future. If you score is 150 to 299, the chances are about 50%. At less than 150, about 30%.)
How Do I Know the Warning Signs of Difficulty Adjusting to Transition?
As we’ve already mentioned above, transition is difficult and most people need help of some kind to make it through. Still, most people want to know whether their predicament is truly “serious,” or if they should just wait it out to see if things get better on their own.
In addition to checking your situations against the checklist above, consider whether you are experiencing any of these factors, which indicate a more serious difficulty adjusting to change:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Sadness, irritability, depression
- Outbursts of temper or other emotion (for example: crying)
- Anxious feelings (“keyed up” or “on edge”)
- Bowel issues, stomach aches, headaches, or other physiological manifestations of “stress” that aren’t otherwise normal for you
- Difficulty breathing or heart palpitations (an unpleasant sensation of one’s heart beating faster or more forcefully than usual)
- Isolating yourself socially or withdrawing from social groups
- Loss of interest or marked displeasure with activities you once enjoyed
- Tardiness or absences from important obligations at work or school
- New and uncharacteristic dangerous/destructive activities — reckless driving, hostility/fighting, vandalism, etc.
- Decrease or increase in appetite
- Changes in sleep patterns — sleeping more or less than usual
- Loss of energy or feeling easily fatigued
- Using substances (alcohol, drugs) or sex to cope
Some Immediate Suggestions
- One: Accept that transition is difficult — like, really, really accept it. You may not want it to be difficult, and you may not think it should be difficult given how successful you are in other areas or how others seem to handle change, but in fact, difficulty adjusting to life transition is incredibly widespread. Since we might conceptualize this difficulty as “normal” (i.e., commonly occurring), adjust your expectations for yourself, and monitor what you are saying in your inner life. Having difficulty is bad enough — don’t add chastising yourself for that difficulty to the mix.
- Two: Recognize that you can only see external appearances of others. That is, most of us compare ourselves to how others seem to adjust to transition, and then rate ourselves accordingly. If your friend or co-worker seems to have an easier time than you, remember, you can only see his/her “outsides,” while you have to deal with your own “insides.” In short, the comparison isn’t fair. Don’t compare the way you feel to how others look. If you’re not convinced that others struggle with transition, ask! A real-life litmus test often reveals we have much more in common with others than what is visible to the naked eye.
- Three: Remember that you are a “whole” being — instead of focusing on the transition itself, focus on the areas it impacts. There’s a good chance that if you’ve recently undergone transition, important areas of your life have been affected — how you eat, how you work (or go to school), how you sleep, who you spend time with, how you exercise, etc. Focus on those, and let the rest go for now. For example, if you’re in a new role at work, try focusing less on that new role and more on getting proper sleep, eating healthily, and making time for exercise. These exponentially increase the likelihood that you’ll weather the work change with less difficulty.
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