How Therapy Can Prepare You for Life’s Next Chapter
If there’s one thing that’s constant in life, it’s change, and learning how to embrace it isn’t always easy. Whether it’s retiring from your job, ending a relationship, or moving across the country, big life changes can feel overwhelming and sometimes lead to mental health challenges.
“Some people love change, but most struggle in some way with it,” says Shana Prisloo, a psychotherapist and Senior Clinical Manager at Inkblot Therapy, an online therapy platform. “It’s normal to experience heightened anxiety, depression, or even grief when going through a big life transition.”
Yet, embarking on a new life chapter doesn’t always have to feel hard. Prisloo says therapy can help us manage our emotions and embrace the positive aspects of change: “Transitions represent an opportunity for us to think about what it is we really want in our lives, what isn’t working, and challenge ourselves to grow. Therapy can help us reflect on our experience, learn healthy ways to cope with emotions, and identify future goals.”
Prisloo gave us some more advice on navigating transitions, setting goals, and making the most of our days ahead.
Why do big life changes — even exciting ones — often feel really difficult?
Even changes that we look forward to can create a great deal of stress. Humans find comfort in the status quo. We may fear impending change, make assumptions about how it will turn out, or see it as one big event rather than a gradual process. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and stressed, activating the fight, flight, or freeze response in our brains. This is when mental health issues can surface.
Some people experience heightened anxiety or depression as a result of change. You could have a racing heart, clammy hands, or even a full-blown panic attack. Therapy teaches us that these responses are not uncommon and that we can manage them.
Why do some people handle transition and change better than others?
Your ability to manage change typically depends on your resilience — the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from events. Some people equate resilience with mental toughness, but that’s not true. Rather, resilient people can recognize when they’re in turmoil and actively work through their painful emotions. Resilience is like a muscle: it takes time to build up and sometimes we need help.
How can therapy help someone better manage the stress of a big life transition?
Talking with an unbiased, non-judgmental individual can be helpful to normalize what you are experiencing. This is an important part of the therapeutic process.
Therapy can also help you manage expectations and focus on the opportunities that come from a transition, rather than dwell on the negative. Once in that state of mind, therapy can help you set goals. Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it — moving through a job loss or ending a relationship — you can get stuck. Therapy can help you to step back and take stock of the situation, explore your goals, and develop a plan to achieve them.
You might walk away with some concrete tools like stress management techniques, thought reframing, cognitive processing techniques, ways to identify and express your feelings, acceptance skills, and how to maintain a healthy routine. Ultimately, a therapist will help build your resilience so you can better manage life transitions and even turn them into positive experiences.
What advice would you have for someone who is currently embarking on a new life chapter and feeling overwhelmed?
I would encourage them to see the opportunity in the experience. Maybe you’re newly retired and no longer focused on a busy work schedule. You may feel grief at a chapter ending or you may struggle to define your purpose. But you’ll also have additional time to pursue things that you didn’t have time for before. You can dive into that hobby you absolutely loved, spend more time with your support systems, or explore volunteering. When you reframe the experience, your time now represents a period of unlimited opportunity.
We no longer have to struggle through difficult periods alone. Therapy is a safe place to bounce your ideas off another person, express yourself, learn different skills, get feedback, and prepare for life’s exciting challenges.
Want to get started? ARTA benefit plan members can access five free hours of Inkblot therapy every year. Visit arta-map.net to sign up and schedule your first session. You will need your ARTA member ID number, starting with ART (i.e., ART12345).