How to Handle Transitional Stress

Strategies for moving through your current life transition

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA Monday, 19 October 2020

How to Handle Transitional Stress

In our line of work, we meet and help many people who are in the midst of experiencing big changes in their career, family, or lifestyle. We refer to these changes as life transitions, and they come in many forms. Whether your transition is due to the sale of a business, the loss of a spouse, a painful divorce, the receipt of an inheritance, or a combination of several transitions, it is often a difficult and challenging time that leads to much stress.

Below, we’ll discuss three ways to successfully move through a difficult transition, as well as six coping mechanisms to help you manage that inevitable transitional stress.

Moving Through Transitions: Three Ways to Make the Journey Easier

If you’re in the middle of a major life transition right now, know that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Successfully moving through your current challenges is a balancing act between owning the moment while also planning for the future and finding a way to embrace your next steps.

#1: Resilience

We’ve all heard the adage that death and taxes are life’s only guarantees, but change is one of life’s certainties, too. The only effective balance to change is resilience, and one of the most effective ways to embrace change is by focusing on the positives.

Resiliency is what allows us to move forward after our initial reactions to our life situations, like anger, fear, or sadness. By remaining resilient, we are able to look at our situations differently, with an eye to overcoming challenges and finding contentment. Resiliency reminds us that nothing is permanent, and it encourages us to be flexible in adjusting our plans when life throws us curveballs. (Check out my podcast episode on Resilience for more.)

#2: Reserves

Major life transitions have a significant emotional cost, but they often require a lot of time and money, too. This can be particularly true in the early stages of a transition. It’s almost impossible to budget for the financial impact of a major life transition because they are all different. Even in situations where the type of transition is more common, such as divorce, the details involved are unique to each instance.

Knowing that transitions are inevitable and, while they tend to happen unexpectedly, are an expected part of life – and that even the best projections will most likely underestimate the true costs in time and money – we suggest building a reserve. A financial buffer will give you peace of mind while providing the money necessary to effectively work through the transition and, hopefully, provide some additional flexibility for time. Reserves can be a true lifeline during a big transition.

SEE ALSO: Four Mental Barriers That Stall Your Financial Success

#3: Respect

The changes and surprises that accompany life’s transitions may feel like failures, at least initially. However, it’s possible to make the mental shift from viewing it as a failure to viewing it as an opportunity for success. You can do this by allowing yourself to move through this transitional period in a respectful way. This means both respecting the transitional period itself while maintaining your self-respect.

Coping Mechanisms for Transitional Stress: Six Strategies to Reduce Overwhelm

Transitions are temporary, but the stress they bring can feel overwhelming. They take a mental and emotional toll on all of us, which is why it’s important to honor the feelings you experience while going through a transition. Time and emotional support help provide perspective, creating the presence of mind to help clarify the next steps. The following six strategies can help you reduce your stress level as you cope with a challenging transition.

#1: Acceptance

It’s often difficult to accept the change that comes with any major transition because human nature fights things that are uncomfortable or unfamiliar. Whether you are experiencing the loss of a loved one, a major career change, a big move, or a divorce, accepting your new situation is an important step in making space for setting new goals and making new life decisions.

#2: Reflection

This strategy is all about taking stock of who you really are and what you really want, and it can have a lasting impact on the way you manage transitions. Self-reflection helps identify your main sources of challenge and worry, while also highlighting the other side to any situation. Practicing meditation or yoga, talking with a therapist, journaling, or walking can help facilitate reflection and mindfulness.

#3: Living in the Moment

During periods of transition, it’s common to look to the past or future for answers, comfort, or diversion. Yet the current moment—the one we are in—is the one that matters the most. It is what will move us toward our future. Setting small, attainable goals for the future makes challenges seem more manageable.

SEE ALSO: Mid-Life Divorce: Challenges and Opportunities Through a Difficult Transition

#4: Consulting a Mentor

Whether it’s a friend, colleague, coach, parent, sibling, or advisor, having a confidant to share your thoughts, concerns, ideas, and options with can be of great benefit when you are in the throes of a major life change. Mentors provide a great source for clarity and an outlet for your thoughts.

#5: Practicing Optimism

When things are tumultuous, having a negative outlook can be easier than having a positive one. However, optimism is a skill that can be honed like a great golf swing or an expert soufflé. If you can overcome negative thought patterns and cultivate a positive outlook, it will shift your mindset to one of opportunity rather than a challenge. Don’t forget that every transition, though often tiresome, has something beneficial to bring to your life.

#6: Looking for Opportunities

The Sherpas of Nepal spend their days guiding eager, daring travelers up the treacherous paths of Mount Everest and other Himalayan peaks. What they witness in a month is likely more terrifying than what most of us have experienced in a lifetime. And yet, they continue guiding thousands of visitors per year. I admire these Sherpas because they embrace the uncertainty that the Himalayas hold as part of their life and their livelihood. When it comes to major transitions in our own lives, take a lesson from the Sherpas. They do not seek to remove themselves from the challenges they face. Rather, they find the most navigable solution in order to arrive safely on the other side of the mountain. They look for opportunities when others assume there are none.

Final Thoughts on Life Transitions and Stress

In our society, we are encouraged to look at things in black and white. Did we succeed or did we fail? During transitions, this mentality can hinder our ability to see a new path or beginning. It can stop us from envisioning something new for ourselves and from taking the steps necessary to make that potential a reality. When going through a transition, understand that your experiences are opportunities to learn and grow. Looking at your circumstances through a new lens will help you ask the right questions that will allow you to discover what could be.

Understanding that life transitions are things that we must get through, not out of, is a great step in the process of breaking down what needs to be done in order to come through the storm and continue on our journey to the summit. We hope the above strategies can be of use to you the next time you find yourself in the midst of a stressful life transition.

If you found this content useful, you can read more in my book, Flourish Financially: Values, Transitions, and Big Conversations.

About the Author

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA

Kathy Longo brings over 25 years of expertise and experience to Flourish Wealth Management. Kathy is wholly dedicated to improving the life of each client and finds joy in making complex matters simple and easy to understand. She excels at asking the right questions, uncovering new possibilities and implementing the most advantageous strategies for success. Playing such a pivotal role in her clients’ lives remains an honor and a privilege. After earning a degree in Financial Planning and Counseling from Purdue University, she began her career at a small firm in Palatine, Illinois where she worked directly with clients while learning to build a viable, client-centric business. Over the years, she gained extensive knowledge and wisdom working as a wealth manager, financial planner, firm manager and business owner at notable, various sized companies in both Chicago and Minneapolis.


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