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Are You Experiencing Transitional Stress?

Amanda Ann Gregory, LCPC, EMDR Certified Therapist

Life transitions are more common than you might realize. Examples of such transitions that might come to mind are common ones such as the following:

  •       Starting a new job/academic program.
  •       Losing or leaving a job.
  •       Making a career change.
  •       Graduating.
  •       Retirement.
  •       Empty nesting.
  •       Moving to a new home/relocating.
  •       Buying or selling a house.
  •       Divorce/separation/the end of a relationship.
  •       Marriage/beginning a new relationship.
  •       Welcoming a child into your family.
  •       The death of a loved one (including pets).
  •       Any changes related to COVID.

Yet, there are many transitions that you might not consider when you think of life transitions. Are you aware that these are also life transitions?

  •       Aging.
  •       Recovering from infidelity.
  •       Financial gains or loses.
  •       Illness.
  •       Recovering from an injury.
  •       Questioning faith/spirituality.
  •       Questioning one’s sexuality.
  •       Transitioning one’s gender.
  •       Promotions/career growth.
  •       Going back to an office after months of working remotely.

All of these situations are life transitions that can induce stress. How many of these transitions have you experienced in the past? Are you experiencing any transitions now? If so, it would be beneficial to recognize that you are undergoing a transition and that increased stress is likely to result from it.

Here’s an example of transition stress: DeAndre received a promotion at work. He has received a salary increase, is now taking on more managerial duties, and is being integrated into the leadership culture within his company. He is currently undergoing multiple, intersecting life transitions, including a new position, a new salary, and exposure to a new culture. These are positive life transitions, but they can still cause increased stress. 

Are there changes in your mood?

One of the most common signs of transitional stress is a change in your mood. For example, you might experience irritability, anxiety, sadness, grief, confusion, or apathy in response to a life transition. DeAndre noticed that he was feeling sad and realized that he felt a sense of loss due to the manner in which his promotion transformed his relationships with his coworkers, for he had to adopt a more managerial role and was therefore no longer able to act as their peer.  He also realized that he was struggling to relax at night, as he would constantly think about work and the tasks he needed to accomplish the next day.

To discover changes in your mood, ask yourself this question: How do I typically feel when I am not experiencing a transition? This might be your emotional baseline. If you are experiencing a transition, you might notice that you are not functioning at your emotional baseline. You might have less tolerance for people or for certain environmental stimuli. You might struggle to manage daily stress and feel overwhelmed. These emotional responses are typical of transitional stress.

Are there changes in your body?

Transitional stress can cause you to experience multiple changes in your body. These changes could include headaches/migraines, muscle tension (which can cause aches and pains), sleep difficulties, fatigue, and a decline in your immune system. If you are struggling to assess whether your mood has changed, you might want to look at how your body is functioning during your transition.

DeAndre noticed that his body felt restless at night, especially when he was thinking about work. He also wasn’t sleeping as well, as he’d wake up multiple times throughout the night due to vivid dreams.  DeAndre realized that these bodily changes were likely due to transitional stress.

Experiencing transitions is common, as is transitional stress. If you are experiencing transitional stress, participating in therapy might help. A therapist can help you understand whether you are experiencing any life transitions and how these transitions are impacting you on an emotional and physical level. Therapy can also teach you many ways to cope with transition stress. Symmetry Counseling provides individual therapy to help you manage transitional stress.

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