A World in Transition: Insights from Transition Hub - Psychology of Change
Life changing events and transitions affect us in many ways, impacting our emotional, physical, and psychological wellbeing.
The ripple effect of change can also affect our finances, relationships, and future plans. Change has never been easy because we get attached to what we know, to our safety and comfort. Some of the current challenges we are experiencing relate to a loss of freedom, limited family contact and social life, loss of our favourite activities and daily routines, loss of employment, boredom, loneliness, and even depression or anxiety.
So, how can we navigate through change with greater self-compassion and embrace new possibilities that change can bring? Coping with transition and new circumstances can feel emotionally overwhelming, however embracing the process can help you adapt to change more rapidly. According to William Bridges' transition framework, we experience three distinct stages of psychological processing when we go through change - Endings, Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings.
Ironically, any new beginning starts with the ending of old ways of being and an acceptance of what is being lost.
The Endings stage is marked by a mix of intense feelings, such as shock, denial, anger, fear, confusion, and grief. These are normal responses to stress and major shifts in life. Ending ‘the way things used to be’ and coming to terms with our sense of loss takes time.
Sometimes, people can be their harshest critics in times of change and find it hard to accept their seemingly ‘negative’ emotions. Their inner dialogue can be brutal with a constant stream of negative self-talk and ruminations: 'I should get over it', 'What's wrong with me?', 'Pull your act together'.
People who fight change, or judge their emotional responses harshly, often find themselves feeling stuck, anxious, or even depressed. Consequently, they deal with the emotional consequences of life-changing events for longer.
Self-compassion is very important at any stage of change. When we feel compassion for what we are experiencing, we engage in a self-soothing process that allows us to accept all our feelings, without judgement, and deal with them more constructively. Research shows that in times of transition, the sooner we focus our attention to the present moment and to what we can do to feel better, the quicker we will regain our wellbeing and move forward.
Neutral Zone is the next stage in the process of change. It is the most important stage of internal transitioning and adjustment. This stage calls us to take time to adjust to our new reality before we can regain our sense of power and readiness to embark on a new journey.
The Neutral Zone is often characterised by feelings of disorientation, frustration, lack of motivation, confusion, and not knowing what to do. This emotional discomfort may push us to act before we have had the chance to reflect on what we value in our life and work, what parts of our existence brings us a sense of meaning, and if we are truly happy in our relationships.
It’s important not to rush into the next thing. Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing. Pro-active people may experience anxiety and restlessness, to which, I strongly recommend putting your energy into physical tasks and sport.
Some people have never taken the time to go deeper into themselves. They have been 'snorkelling' on a surface of life, while hoping to find deep fulfilment in their work and relationships.
Transformational times call us to have the courage to 'scuba dive' into the deep waters of the unknown, to re-connect with the true essence of who we are to feel alive again. This enables us to move on with a renewed sense of purpose and excitement about the future.
The final stage is one of New Beginnings, representing acceptance of our new reality. It is a phase of creation and development of new ideas, understanding, skills, values and attitudes. We are encouraged by what is possible for us now and in the future. This transition stage is marked by a range of positive emotions, psychological readiness for the next chapter in life, new goals and high-energy.
It is at this point of successful transition that we truly feel aligned with our new identity and life's purpose, resulting in a sense of resilience and personal power.
One thing is certain in life - change is inevitable. I encourage you to reflect on all the transitions you have experienced in your life, whether change happened to you or you chose it, and consider: Who have you become in the process? What have you learned? How have you adapted to the new? And what new possibilities have you discovered?
Coach & author bio: Anna Reznik is a psychologist and a Transition Hub Wellbeing coach with a background in mental health. She focuses on building resilience skills in clients and helping to transition through change.