Transitions- Embrace Them!

Darwin didn’t say the strongest species survive, but rather those most adaptable.  With the academic year about to begin, transitions for students, faculty, and staff abound.  Provided we come to expect transitions as normal parts of life, they’re not so bad.  But when we wish for stability, we often get upended. 

 

Research has long shown that change itself is stressful, even when it seems to be positive.  So don’t be surprised if anxiety accompanies the start of the school year.

 

 

Ways to make the most of this transition include: 

 

Stay present to the present.  In other words, rather than regret something from the recent past or worry about something late in the semester, show up fully for today.  We can handle difficult times more effectively when we devote most of our attention to any given moment.

 

Learn from the summer.  What wisdom did you gain over the last three months?  For example, if you recharged your emotional batteries with a brief vacation, can you regain a degree of that peace with a few minutes a day of slow breathing and remembering?

 

Embrace change.  Since we “can’t step in the same river twice,” why even try to?  Use our ever-changing weather pattern as a metaphor for life.  By fully experiencing our seasons—and ideally each day—we do less longing for something we don’t have—yet. 

 

Design an attitude-shift experiment.  It’s rarely an event that causes as much stress as our interpretation of it.  Try looking at your next difficulty as merely a challenge.  It’s easier to clear a hurdle than move a mountain.  For instance, if you call a problem a “little inconvenience,” it might somehow feel smaller.

 

See your thoughts as transient.  “Decentering” or gently stepping back a bit from our thoughts and feelings has been shown to reduce anxiety and even improve life quality for people with chronic pain (McCracken, Gutiérrez-Martínez, & Smyth, 2013). Troublesome thoughts don’t last long unless we try to suppress them. 

 

Gracefully recover from mistakes.  Brush yourself off and stand back up rather than worry about handling this transition flawlessly.  When we emotionally stumble a bit, it’s actually no big deal unless we allow it to be.

 

Robert Fulghum writes about the importance of distinguishing problems from inconveniences. We all face true problems from time to time, but save room along that dimension for when we need it.  Appreciating our privileged lives that include food, clothing, and shelter can help us think less drastically about any given inconvenience right now. 

 

 

Reference: 

 

McCracken, L.M., Gutiérrez-Martínez, O., & Smyth, C.  (2013).  “Decentering” reflects psychological flexibility in people with chronic pain and correlates with their quality of functioning.  Health Psychology, 32, 820-823. 


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