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Ah, spring. A time of year filled with blooming plants, outdoor activities, and change. As your semester draws to a close, you might be anticipating a move, an internship or job, some new summer classes, and inevitably, some goodbyes. And if you’re graduating, you might be feeling the finality of each of these experiences as you prepare to venture into the next chapter of your life.

Transition and change can feel exhilarating, as you look forward to what’s next in your life. Change can also cause you to feel anxious and upset, as you begin to consider potential challenges or uncertainties. Some people welcome change with open arms, while others approach it with hesitation. And many feel a mix of both. Life transitions can elicit a host of seemingly opposing emotions, like sadness and excitement, or eagerness and reluctance.

A RANGE OF FEELINGS

Change is difficult for most people. Being human means that you are probably a creature of habit. Having to change your daily routine or way of life requires you to lean into places that are unfamiliar and sometimes scary. Fear of the unknown is a common response to impending change.

On the other hand, as Jesse M., a a second-year medical student at the University of Manitoba in Winnepeg, says, “Stepping out of your routine is also a chance for a fresh start and to change some habits, too.”

In a recent Student Health 101 survey, respondents indicated anticipating multiple changes in their lives, including:

  • Finding or starting a job (68%)
  • Graduating (58%)
  • Traveling (46%)

When these same students were asked how they feel about the coming changes, they responded with a variety of emotions, including:

  • Excited (82%)
  • Nervous (70%)
  • Hopeful (62%)
  • Worried (38%)

Transitions can be stressful, in ways that feel both great and challenging. The people who move through changes most successfully have learned how to persevere and withstand stress.

As you make your way through various times of transition, you’ll build resiliency. What this means is that despite the discomfort these changes might cause, they are necessary for building personal strength.

BUILDING BLOCKS OF RESILIENCE

The companion Web site to the 2009 Nova/WGBH film This Emotional Life explains that psychologists have identified a number of factors that may enhance your ability to adapt to transition and change:

  • Close relationships with family and friends
  • A positive sense of self and confidence in your strengths and abilities
  • The ability to manage strong emotional reactions (like the ones that often accompany transitions)
  • Communication and problem-solving skills
  • Seeking help, as well as helping others

So how do you cultivate these qualities? Here’s how:

  • Be patient with yourself and your new surroundings. For example, if you’re moving back in with your family, remember that it’s an adjustment for everyone. If you’re starting a new job or will be living in a new geographic location, remind yourself to take things one day at a time.
  • Call upon your inherent strengths. What are you particularly good at? Where do you excel? What activities or experiences bring you happiness? Focus on what you do well during this time of transition.
  • Use your support network. Check in often with close friends and family members. They have each experienced their own transitions, so their support, understanding, and advice may be particularly helpful now.
  • Kate B., a sophomore at Winona State University in Minnesota, says, “You don’t have to make decisions on your own all the time. Use your resources.”
  • Emily Cherin, a faculty member at the University of New Hamsphire in Durham, recommends creating a Facebook group for friends who can share experiences and suggestions for job and apartment searches, roommate connections, and advice on how to survive a move back home.
  • Check in with your feelings. Acknowledge that change may bring up many emotions, some seemingly contradictory, and remind yourself that this is completely normal.

Keep in mind that most people will accomplish some of these and not others. Building resilience is a process, which means you always have the capacity to enhance and further develop your abilities.

WELCOME TO TODAY

Imagine yourself in your new job, apartment, locale, or moving back in with your family. You are inevitably going to have some moments of, “Oh my goodness! What have I gotten myself into?”

Lydia M., a student at the University of New Hampshire, recognizes when change is causing her to feel unsettled, and then does something about it. She explains, “I was away from home for an extended period of time during my freshman year of college. I took up yoga, first as strength training, but then it became more about relaxation and finding my own presence in the moment. This helped greatly with the stress of a new lifestyle.”

Taking on new challenges can also be invigorating. Anna C., a senior at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa, says, “Changes are opportunities. They are easier to handle if you think about them as exciting and helpful.”

Over time, the conflicting feelings will ease. As you become more familiar with your surroundings and successfully navigate some new experiences, you’ll gain confidence and start enjoying the many new elements of your life.

Julie Rost, a yoga instructor in Exeter, New Hampshire, says, “What is now will change, is changing, is changed all in one moment.” Indeed, change is the only constant. Learning to gracefully navigate life transitions will both build your resilience and confirm that you’ve had it all along.

Tips about moving forward

Your New Now

Here are some strategies for taking on new challenges:
  • Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. This is a great time to learn something new about yourself and the world around you.
  • Have self-compassion. If you make mistakes (it’s impossible not to), practice accepting yourself for who you are. This will allow you to learn about your strengths and what areas need attention. This will also foster a greater sense of empathy for other people.
  • Indulge your inherent curiosity. You’re taking a new adventure and will have the chance to explore things with fresh eyes.
  • Ask for help when you need it. Talk to a friend, family member, or someone else you trust. There is no shame in feeling a wide range of emotions during periods of change and adaptation. Verbalizing your feelings and experiences may lead to new insights about how you can adapt in future situations, and other people may have ideas or strategies that you have not yet tried or considered.

Take Action!

  • Be mindful of your emotional responses to change.
  • Develop positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you can get through this period of transition.
  • Cultivate relationships. Meaningful friendships and family support will help keep you buoyant.
  • Be patient with yourself and those around you. It takes time to adjust to new experiences.
  • Think of change as an adventure. You can learn a lot about yourself and your surroundings, and will also develop more compassion for other people’s experiences.

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Get help or find out more
Johns Hopkins University, Student Assistance Program, Adapting to Change

National School Boards Association, Change Inventories

William Bridges. (2009). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press.

Edith Henderson Grotberg, Ph.D. (1999). Tapping Your Inner Strength, How to Find the Resilience to Deal with Anything. Oakland: New Harbinger.

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