Transitions: we all face them.
Bigger ones and smaller ones, they’re always there.
Whether it’s the end of your time in kindergarten, starting a new job, going away to college or simply realizing that your favorite brand of chocolate is not available anymore, life never stands still.
Divorce has been my latest mountain to conquer and it’s been by far the most difficult one to date. Nothing, not even a 14-year long battle with anorexia, can prepare you for the shock and the pain of admitting that your marriage is dead.
But here I was moving back in with my parents and finding myself sitting in my old sanctuary, my childhood bedroom. I was staring at the same mirrors that reflected my depression a few years ago. I was surrounded by the same ceilings that carried my anorexia. Being thrown back into my teenage memories was, to put it mildly, rough. Hearing the destructive voices in my head telling me I had failed was rougher and I was tempted to fall right back into my oh-so-familiar mode of pitying myself.
But I wasn’t going to let that happen. After all, I had a business to run and I was not the same person I used to be mere 30 months before. I had grown stronger, more competent and I had started to be me. No, wallowing in self-pity was not an option.
So, I got back up and moved to Zurich again, not missing a day of work, not missing a deadline, commitment or cause. I was present with all my energy, focus and attention. I wasn’t heartless, but determined not to let this newest struggle in my life destroy all the process I had made.
What did I do? I didn’t just pull myself together (I hate that phrase, by the way), but I used coping methods that really helped and soothed me whenever I felt like hitting my head against the wall, wanting all the gut-wrenching pain to disappear.
I’d like to share them with you, if you’re up to it.
1. Be your own best friend
In the end, you’re the one who has to carry yourself through anything and relying on yourself is your safest bet. Being your own best friend, practicing radical self-love is the number one way to make it through all hardships of life.
Show yourself love every single day by talking kindly to yourself and always be gentle. Stop the judgments that will arise by meeting them with understanding and love, just like your best friend would.
Journaling had already been a great pillar in my recovery from anorexia and it has stayed that way during the last few months. Writing your feelings down in minute detail releases a lot of tension and emotion and provides perspective like hardly anything else.
Just like journaling helped me in recovery, exercise was a major factor in my ability to pull myself out of depression. In times of transition, we tend to let ourselves go, eat a lot of junk and couldn’t care less about going out for a run. But if you treat yourself to a daily dose of movement, you’ll feel invigorated, rejuvenated and alive, which is exactly what you need. And having a killer body never hurt when going through a breakup, right?
4. Surround yourself with positivity
Having retreated back to my parents and being caught in the same, albeit beautiful, home that whispered of so many nightmares was nothing but destructive at that moment in time. Or any moment, to be honest. Pulling myself out of there was essential.
Adding positivity to your life again is an easy but extremely affirming step to take. You can start with seeing friends, writing post-it notes, buying new, fun clothes, getting a haircut, or hunting for a new apartment. Go out and experience nature with all its positive and breathtaking sides.
When the positivity doesn’t come from inside, it’s helpful to surround yourself with it. It won’t take long for you to adopt the positive mindset and start to feel a bit less lonely inside.
5. Determine your life anchors (in the form of family and friends, your home, books and other inspiration) and don’t shy away from using them
My anchor is my family, my mom, dad and sister. I know I can always, always rely on them. No, our relationships aren’t perfect (whose are?), but there’s no doubt that we will never ever let each other go. I also have friends in the US and in Belgium that will forever be there for me and vice versa.
Who are your life anchors? Who can you turn to when life doesn’t go as planned?
Let’s be honest: transitions can suck. They can be filled with despair, feelings of loss and a nagging sentiment that you will never master this new stage of your life.
But let’s be honest again: transitions happen all the freaking time. They’re unavoidable, especially if you’re committed to staying true to who you are.
So, I think that we’re safest if we decide to throw all towels in the wind and finally just ease into transitions with all their emotions and setbacks and tears. And then deal with them graciously, one step at a time.
If you want to, you can find the strength within you, even if you have to dig a bit. Don’t give up. Fight, stay hopeful and the sun will shine again before you know it.
Need more inspiration? Well, the steps I took and the ways I took care of myself built me up so much that I’m making my dream of living in the Big Apple come true, just a mere few months after my separation. Another transition, another challenge and you bet that I’ll rely on the coping mechanisms above.
Photo by Marta Lilita Zappia
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32 thoughts on “How to Deal With Difficult Transitions”
Journalling and exercising have led me through many hard times. They have also led me to living a healthy lifestyle and to writing two books in the past two years. Great advice.
That’s fantastic, Dan. Proof that even the hard times have its perks!
Some good tips here. Especially the first one, I’ve come to learn that the majority of personal issues I encounter all point towards the root of a “lack of love” for myself.
Yup, Josh, that’s what I’ve realized too. The more we come to learn ourselves and are in tune with what we need and want, the better we can master anything in life.
You are right radical self-love is very important to leading a happy life. We are the ones who have to live with ourselves every moment of every day. Life is about transitions. It is about change. It is about inpermanence. Being able to accept this and live with it no matter how hard is essential to living a quality life.
Sebastion, I soooo agree with you. We need to be our own best friends in order to make it through all the challenges that lives throws our way. If we know ourselves, accept ourselves and take our of ourselves, everything is easier and we’re happier.
Beautifully written, Anne. My anchors are my marriage, the guitar, writing and fitness. But really, it all revolves around the marriage. We do all this stuff together so I am always surrounded by friends and positivity, my wife. We manage transition together and as a team, it is easier and more fun!
That’s awesome, CJ. What a gift to have, right?
Anne-Sophie, your suggestions are excellent but often I believe that our success is stolen at other times too and your tips are great ways to stop the thieves of our own mind from stealing our success, You are beautiful and unique but keeping that in mind is sometimes a real challenge and having supportive people around you is SO important. And get rid of the non-supportive ones because they are often among your friends and family too. Many of us have/had a parent that constantly demeaned or influenced us negatively. They are called SNIOPers
Haha totally agree. The more we surround ourselves with empowering friends and family the more fulfilled and supported we are.
I love that you mention exercise, Anne-Sophie. Before I was really, really sick, I dabbled in exercise. Tennis here, two-mile walk there. When I started to exercise daily, my whole outlook on life drastically changed. It wasn’t running or cross fit, which are great for some, it was taking a fast walk and starting small – two, three, four, and now five miles. It is how I start every day, and I am making sure that it happens for the rest of my days!
Yes, Tammy! Exercise makes a huge difference in our happiness levels. When I healed from my depression a few years ago, exercise was the catapult that brought me back to life. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve incorporated it in your routine!
Thank you very much for this timely article as I am going through a major life transition where I just threw all my stuff in storage and left the city/state I was living in for the last five years where a lot of challenging things seemed to be always happening and I was stagnating terribly. I retreated to another state where I used to live to house sit a family member’s house for over two months. That was a weird remove. Now I’m even further removed in the state of Michigan living with mom for a while at age 46. It’s not so bad, but it’s unsettling being chronically ill with a couple of a things, seeking medical help, and not knowing where or how to move forward yet. So I wait and keep it moving forward by staying present. As a friend said, “The next step will present itself.” My anchor is my family and my yoga practice. I too overcame an eating disorder years ago, but as I get older transitions feel a little more poignant, for lack of a better word. Anyway, thank you for the idea of radically loving self. I often have a lot of judgement and I know that sentimentality of the past you speak of, which can be particularly haunting. I will continue to stay present as an anchor and not get lost in my fears of my thoughts – nor judge myself for all that has happened and being in this place. It is not such a bad place to be – ready and willing to meet transition!
Hi Cat, I’m sorry to hear you’re going through such a rough time. I do truly hope that you’ll find some comfort in taking care of yourself. Yes, make “isness your business” as Marie Forleo would say and try to stay in the present moment, living one day at a time. If you want to talk, I’m here. xxx
Thank you, Annie for the support! Getting a lot out of reading your web site. Getting through an eating disorder is no small thing. You are a warrior in that case!
Earlier in my life I dedicated myself to creating a life free of all change. I HATED change and transitions of any kind. Boy was I going to the wrong way.
I finally realized life was all about change and I could embrace those ‘pesky’ transitions. The more I did that the better my life became. I embraced journaling and read avidly.
The thing that helped me the most was a simple pack of index cards. When I heard something or read a particularly moving passage I would write it an index card. I made my own affirmation cards and whenever I would start feeling off center I would read them. With that simple stack of index cards and some dedication I was able to overcome depression and create the life of my dreams.
Thanks Anne for the great article.
Wow, that’s a fantastic idea, Susan. I may steal that one. ;) So glad you found your own way to deal with your struggles and I’m very happy to hear you made it out of this challenge in a good way. Go you!
Ann, this is a great idea. I tend to copy and paste inspirational things into a digital text file, but having an index card file full of them to handle and actually read on the spot, might make it all sink in more. Good for you! Embracing transitions – love it!
Anne-Sophie, it takes a strong person to find the light in such a transition that experienced. for me, what makes change difficult is when it is unexpected.
Coping mechanisms? Definitely friends that I can talk to and who can provide perspective. Definitely.
And now you’re moving to NYC!!! i’m screening with excitement for you ! I recently moved to Paris and it’s the best move I ever made.
Paris, yay! How awesome. One of my favorite cities. :) So excited that you took action and made your dream a reality. Also, way to go on having supporting friends. That’s a biiiig one and can totally change your life.
Going through this exact same thing myself, and with two young children, transition is so so hard, especially as, in my case, you can’t simply forget about your ex-partner or spouse and escape and hide. They are still very much in your life tied to your children for the rest of your life.
For me, the most painful part was losing someone I thought was a friend, for over 14 years. Trying to become your own best friend is like learning to love someone you almost have forgotten about…..
Time will tell
I feel for you as I am going through the exact same thing. I thought my husband was my friend too and that we had too much respect for each other to do what he did. It has been painfully difficult coming to terms with his betrayal of that. He threw away 15 yrs of marriage and 20 yrs together just like that and moved on to be with someone else.
The best perspective I’ve heard is that it is not something they are doing ‘to’ you; it is something they are doing in spite of you, especially if you had a relatively good marriage. Their betrayal or lack of friendship says more about them and what is going on inside their heads than it is ever a reaction to you. They may point their finger at you or blame you too but it is their only way of justifying their behaviour. Yes, in hindsight you will realise that there are things you shouldn’t have done or done better, learn from those but unless they were truly bad things, they alone did not cause the break up.
We used to do a mindfulness ask at the monastery I lived about honoring transitions.
What we did was practiced with noticing transitions we experience everyday.
One example was moving from one room to the next. Another might be moving from day to night. We practice to notice these transitions and honor each and everyone.
Thanks so much for your post.
Meditation and journaling have always helped me get through difficult times. And while I agree that it is good to be in a positive environment in transitional times, it is also good to allow yourself to fee the negative emotions that want to come out in a difficult situation. Allowing those feelings to come out will lead to a sense of release and eventually closure that you can express in your journal or with other people.
Thanks for this post!
These are excellent tips, and congrats on the move to NY!
Being your own best friend and getting plenty of exercise are both key factors in any transition! This article is great – it really makes you feel as though there’s no reason to allow anyone or anything to get you down! Like you say, with life anchors that you can turn to when life isn’t going your way – transitions can be a lot easier than you originally thought! Thank you
I think knowing yourself is often the key to dealing with a difficult transition in life.
thank you so much for these great tips
I’m in a huge transition period right now, so this post is very timely for me. Not only did I go through a divorce 3 years ago, I quit my job this past month and moved to a new state. It’s all part of building a new life for myself. But as you said — transitions suck. So I can definitely relate to what you’re feeling. I love the advice you gave, especially the one about being your own best friend. That’s so KEY! I had to learn that myself, and now I’m my own biggest supporter and advocate. And I don’t apologize for the way I am. I’m learning to honor my needs, and my quirks.
Wonderful suggestions. Valuable for people who are going through some really difficult days in life. Just one concern from my experience of dealing with someone really close – on your first point on being your own best friend. I am afraid when this self – love turns into obsession about self, the consequences are nothing less than a disaster. My happiness comes first, my care comes first, people should pamper me, others should have selfless love for me, others should go beyond their means to make me happy and so on. One needs to know when friendship for self turns into this obsession, and ruins everything.
Wonderful. And practical.
I have a question for the author what do you do when you’re forced to live co-existingly with someone negative but you still want so badly to change I live with my dad and he is extremly depressed I want to be a better person and a postive person but I just don’t see how it’s possible
Great article :) I experienced hard times once in my life…and i could say the worst one. I think i moved on but i was wrong the pain is still in me. I hope this article could help me with the transitions i will make. Big thanks.