Going through a major life change — whether it's moving into a new home, starting a new job, landing that coveted promotion, getting married, or something else — is super exciting, for sure. But, experiencing these significant changes can also feel overwhelming and scary. "Change brings with it feelings of uncertainty and loss of control, even when the change is positive," says Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a licensed clinical psychologist. "We are creatures of habit, and our brains like to be able to predict what comes next. When our brains don't know what is coming next, we can become increasingly anxious, worried, and sometimes even depressed."
So, while feeling simultaneously happy and anxious about a positive change may feel counterintuitive, Dr. Zuckerman says, it's actually normal and healthy. Still, it's not always an easy thing to navigate. To help with this, below, Dr. Zuckerman and Nira Shah, LMHC, a psychotherapist, and yoga instructor, share some tips on dealing with big life changes with more joy, ease, and minimal toll on your mental health.
Acknowledge Your Emotions
First and foremost, Shah says it's important to acknowledge the uncomfortable emotions that may come up and allow yourself to grieve the chapter of your life that's coming to an end. "Recognize what comes up without judgment, and be curious about these feelings, rather than alarmed or wanting to get rid of them," Shah says. "Allow a grieving process. Take time to reflect on what was meaningful about the time leading up to the change or the previous life phase, what you learned, [and] what your favorite moments in it were."
Explore The Worry Thoughts
The worry and "what if" thoughts are also important to acknowledge and work through to release them. A strategy Shah suggests for this is playing out the worst-case scenarios. Ask yourself: What would you do in the worst-case scenario? How would you feel? "Play out the scenario to the end,” Shah says, then consider how likely that is. What is a more realistic scenario? After reflecting on it fully, let it go."
Stay Focused On The Big Picture
While you're navigating the changes, especially in the planning phase leading up to it, Shah recommends stepping back and remembering why the change is happening in the first place. Stay focused on the opportunities that it will bring. "Balance out each worry with something you are excited about," she says.
Take It One Day At A Time
Another way to make the transition more manageable is by only focusing on the present day instead of allowing the uncertainty of what’s up ahead overwhelm you. “My biggest life changes include when I suddenly lost my brother, and when I became a mother,” says Babba Rivera, founder of Ceremonia, a clean hair care brand rooted in Latinx heritage, to TZR. “In both of these moments, although one was extremely devastating and the other was a happy life moment, my best way of coping was to take one day at the time. It is easy to get consumed by the overwhelming feeling of being in the unknown, but breaking it down to weeks, days, and even hours helped me.”
Stick To Routines
As mentioned previously, our brains love knowing what comes next, which is why Dr. Zuckerman recommends sticking to a routine as much as possible during a life transition. "Schedules will help reduce feelings of uncertainty and anxiety," she says. For instance, if you're in the rhythm of meeting up with a friend for lunch every Wednesday or taking a spin class every Sunday, continue to do those things during your adjustment period to maintain some form of normalcy.
Rivera credits sticking to a routine as one of the things that’s really helped her navigate big life changes, whether those changes were good or challenging. “Finding some sort of routine as you go through change that can be your one grounding constant is important,” she says. “For me, daily morning walks became my routine [during times of change].”
By now, you’re well aware of the importance of making self-care part of your daily life. When you're going through big changes, it becomes even more essential. Self-care, of course, will look different for each individual, but as a starting point, Dr. Zuckerman suggests checking in with yourself regularly to ensure you're sleeping enough, eating well, and not isolating yourself. "Paying attention to your overall wellness is critical during times of change," she says. "Noticing these things earlier on can prevent the onset of anxiety and/or depression."
Practicing mindfulness, in particular, is a wellness ritual Shah highly recommends. "This not only eases stress and anxious moments as an effective coping mechanism but also allows one to connect more deeply with the final stages or place they are leaving by being fully present in it," she explains.
Make The Transition More Manageable
To help make the transition as easy and smooth as possible, Shah advises doing whatever you can and need to make the experience more tolerable. "This could look like your support system assisting, checking resources, taking breaks, [or] breaking down the tasks to smaller steps," she says.
Talking to someone who has been through a similar life change can also be helpful as they'll often have some words of wisdom to share now that they're on the other side. "Ask them how they managed it, how they felt emotionally, what they would have done differently, and any suggestions or information they may have to make it easier for you," Dr. Zuckerman says.
And, for folks that find navigating change extremely distressful, Shah points to therapy as a helpful resource and added support. Asking for help is always a good thing!