4 Ways to Navigate Life's Transitions With Ease

A parent and child walk to school

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Change happens; be prepared with a resilient mindset.

Our lives are a series of transitions. The weekend eventually ends and Monday comes. We get married. Summer becomes fall. Vacation ends and we have to go back to work. We happily anticipate milestones such as graduating from college, getting a job or buying a new house. But once an experience ends, our mood can take a dip.

Is it possible to navigate change with a sense of resilience while remaining happy? Our experts weigh in:

1. Realize transitions are a matter of perspective

“There is no such thing as positive or negative transition; it fully depends on the way you think,” says Michael Mantell, Ph.D., a San-Diego based psychologist and the author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: P.S. It’s All Small Stuff.

“If it weren’t for transitions, we wouldn’t move, change, be agile or face new opportunities ... So I never, ever regret having to return to work. Instead, I always think, ‘Wow, what a great vacation this work gave me the opportunity to take, and how grateful I am for the vacation and the job.’ ” If you dread coming back to work, you are setting yourself up for depression and anxiety, he says.

Susan Fletcher, Ph.D., a Dallas-based psychologist, says accepting life’s inevitable ups and downs can make transitions easier. “Peaks and valleys are to be expected,” the Working in the Smart Zone author says. “That doesn’t mean the good times are always vacation and the bad times are everything else. Even on vacation, we can have the same kind of stress we have in our ordinary life.”

The key, Susan says, is knowing what works for you. “I need one full day to power down to go on vacation, so I don’t ever take a 6 a.m. flight to get the most out of vacation because then I am worthless when I get there.” Instead, she schedules midday flights and makes the journey part of the experience, stopping for lunch with her kids, playing cards on the plane and preparing to have fun when they arrive.

The same is true at the end of the trip: If you need to, take a day to decompress and do laundry, buy groceries and open mail instead of returning the night before you go back to work.

2. Don’t set yourself up

Be careful about setting expectations that are hard to meet. You can savor time, but you can’t stop time. If you are visiting your parents or a sibling who lives far away, expect to be sad when you leave, Susan says. “And don’t act fine when you aren’t fine because that takes a whole lot of energy.”

To manage the dip in your mood, rather than dwell on your current trip ending, plan your next visit and start looking forward to it.

When you think, “This will be the best vacation ever,” you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, she says. “Take it how it is and be accepting. Happiness is really defined in a lot of different ways. A lot of people get stuck in thinking happiness is success, but sometimes happiness is being together on the journey.”

3. Look forward to change

Find ways to embrace change. Michael suggests looking for the good in fall weather, the fun of pulling together a new wardrobe, the beauty of upcoming holidays and the good that a new schedule brings. Organize yourself and plan for fall decorations, create a new exercise routine or write a gratitude list for everything you appreciated about your summer.

Susan advises being deliberate. Create a work environment that makes you happy, with your favorite music playing or freshly cut flowers on your desk. “Think about things that help you feel like you are not all work and no play that are really specific to you.”

4. Appreciate life’s contrasts

“If we were always happy, we wouldn’t even appreciate it,” says Connie Podesta, author of Life Would Be Easy If It Weren’t for Other People. “People get used to things quickly and then become complacent. It’s totally normal to be sad when we go back to work [but] it doesn’t mean you dislike your job ... Of course, we are sad to come back from vacation.
 
On vacation we sleep in. Have some free time. No chores, no cooking, no bills to worry about. We don’t have to strategize our every move. It is fantasy land. It’s that contrast that makes the vacation so unbelievably memorable. But we know deep down that we can’t sustain that euphoria forever.” 
 
The contrasts make us happier, Connie says. “Humans are made to change—it’s in our DNA. We get anxious for the summer, but then tired of the heat. We get excited for the fall, but we love the first snow. The ocean looks amazing on the first day of vacation,” she says. “Transitions don’t zap our happiness; they make our happiness even more meaningful.” 
 

Sandra Bienkowski is a regular contributor to Live Happy and the founder and CEO of TheMediaConcierge.net.