How to Be Kind to Yourself in the Middle of Big Transitions

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It feels like we’re surrounded by transitions at the moment: the clocks have gone back, the weather is getting colder, and we’re approaching a new year. Transitions are a natural part of life and an inevitable part of being human, yet some of us experience transitions as a source of possibility and opportunity, while others fear and try to avoid them. In this post, I want to share a few things I've found helpful to remember when it comes to how to be kind to yourself in the middle of big transitions.

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1. Focus on what’s going well, rather than on what’s not

As people, we are natural problem-solvers. Focusing on the negative is a survival mechanism and therefore automatically kicks in during times of stress and/or change. When we start focusing on the negative, however, we risk succumbing to what psychologists call “The Tetris Effect”. This is the idea that when we develop a pattern of focuses on stress, negativity and failure, we’re going to have a stressful and negative experience of life because we’re so focused on the negative that we become blind to the positive (the name comes from the phenomenon that occurs when people play a lot of Tetris and start seeing opportunities for everyday objects to fit together in a similar fashion).

We can counter-act this by taking time to focus on what’s going well during our transition. When we do this, we’re training our brains to focus on the possibilities and potential that come with a particular situation, as well as hardships and potential disasters. This isn’t about ignoring problems, but about making sure that we’re also receptive to positive outcomes and opportunities that might arise too.

2. Make time for gratitude

Another way we can create a positive “Tetris” effect is to consciously commit to practising gratitude. This might sound a little woo-woo, but it works: when we stop to reflect on the things we feel grateful for in our lives and/or express gratitude to someone else, we feel happier ourselves. Expressing gratitude or thanking others for a positive influence they’ve had on our lives also helps us build relationships—and the stronger our relationships are, the more support we have during transitions.

You can express gratitude in the form of thank you notes or through simple practices like making a list of 20 things you feel grateful for each day.

3. Practice your non-negotiables

Non-negotiables are the activities that help us feel like the best versions of ourselves. They are usually activities that involve taking care of ourselves in some way and leave us with a sense of feeling grounded, peaceful, and fulfilled. Common non-negotiables include activities like exercise, meditation, journaling and spending time in nature.

When we’re going through a big transition and our attention is elsewhere, we tend to drop our non-negotiables to the bottom of our to-do lists. It is during these times more than ever, however, that we need to prioritise these activities. When we make time for our non-negotiables, we give ourselves the best chance of having a positive experience of the transition, prevent ourselves burning out, and set ourselves up to make decisions based on love rather than on fear.

4. Be extra conscious of your coping mechanisms

If the transition is stressful, we are more susceptible to falling back on our coping mechanisms to get through. Pay extra attention to the activities that you know you sometimes use for comfort (eating, smoking, drinking, mindless TV, etc.) and, if you notice that you’re relying on them, consciously switch them for your non-negotiables.

5. Ask for support

We all know that asking for support is a good idea and an important part of how to be kind to yourself in the middle of big transitions, but if you’re anything like me you still need a reminder sometimes.

This is that reminder.

6. Accept that you’re not functioning at 100% (and that it’s not going to last forever)

During big transitions, one of the kindest things we can do is to accept reality. This means accepting that we’re in the middle of a big transition, accepting that our energy and attention are elsewhere, and accepting that, while this is happening, we’re not going to be functioning at 100%. That means some things will need to be postponed or sacrificed while we work this through. And that’s OK.

Sometimes, we worry that if we give ourselves a break today, then we’re just going to let everything drop tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that, until we end up in a big heap of lethargic failure.

The truth, however, is that we have finite energy. And if some of that energy is being taken up by a transition, then something else has to give in the meantime. It’s much better to make a conscious decision around what that’s going to be rather than try to plough on, start dropping the balls we’ve been trying to juggle, and end up having that decision made for us.

7. Pay attention to what you can learn from the experience

In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor talks about how, rather than bouncing back from challenging or adverse situations, we want to focus on bouncing forward. In other words, we can have a more positive experience of even the most challenging situations if we focus on what we can learn from them and how we can grow as a result of having experienced them.

Approaching transitions with this mindset not only helps us feel more positive about what has happened, but it also helps us handle or prevent similar situations better in the future.

How do you practice self-kindness during big transitions? Leave a comment and share your ideas.

Further reading: How to be kind to yourself... when you don't do what you say you're going to do & when you're feeling overwhelmed

Image: Lee Scott

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