When the late David Bowie sings about “ch-ch-ch-ch-changes,” it’s pretty catchy. But “tr-tr-tr-tr-transitions?” Not so much!

As a registered counsellor providing private video appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, I often hear from men who are going through changes in their lives—or what counsellors refer to as life transitions—and are struggling to cope with them.

What many guys don’t realize, however, is that life transitions can provide amazing opportunities to be happier and healthier in the long run.

What are life transitions?

These periods of change mark the beginning of something new or different in your life. We interpret some of these periods as positive: Getting married, having a baby, or starting a new job, for instance.

Others we interpret as negative: Ending a relationship, losing a loved one to illness, getting sick ourselves, and so on. Sometimes these transitions are caused by you, and other times they are imposed on you.

Two men upset after an argument

From the outside looking in, negative transitions seem like no-brainers. Divorce? Negative! Job loss? Negative! Six months on disability? Negative! But for the person going through a life transition, there are also prime opportunities for personal growth and building resilience.

Going through a relationship breakup, for instance, can free you to live a more fulfilling life. Experiencing an injury can motivate you to focus on your health.

Positive transitions can also be challenging. For instance, new dads sometimes tell me, “I should be excited, I should be happy, I should be feeling good about this,” yet they feel overwhelmed.

Retirement is also a struggle for many guys. I often hear things like, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to reach this point, and now I don’t know who I am or what to do with myself.”

Whether interpreted as positive or negative, the uncertainty that comes with life transitions can make you feel anxious or overwhelmed. These are natural feelings we all experience. The key to coping with them, however, involves managing those feelings effectively and using tools that are often right in front of you.

How to cope with life transitions

Anxiety is often a part of any major life change. There’s a good chance you’ve never dealt with this particular situation before, and uncertainty causes anxiety. One way to deal with worrying about the future is to live in the present moment. The future may be cloudy, and the past a collection of memories, but the present is something you can control.

Here are eight of the best ways to help deal with the anxiety that big life changes can bring:

Set daily priorities

When you wake up, do a quick inventory of what you need for the day. Stay focused on what you know you’re able to do to help balance out things that might feel overwhelming. Sometimes it might be as simple as saying, “This morning, I need to eat breakfast,” or, “I am going to go to work,” and that’s okay. It’s about setting a priority and saying, “Here’s my need right now, and I’m going to outline what it is I’m going to do.”

Give yourself a break

You may not know what to do during a life transition because you’ve never been through it before, and that’s perfectly OK. Change can be tough, even when we want it to happen. This kind of self-compassion reminds me of something a therapist once said to me: “It all works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, it’s just not the end.”

Learn how to accept uncomfortable feelings

Emotions like sadness, disappointment and anger shouldn’t be bottled up. Sitting and stewing, or trying to ignore emotions, doesn’t make them go away. Rather, this can cause them to come out in unhealthy ways like arguments, substance abuse, and overeating.

Humans are emotional beings. You can do everything you want to try and make emotions disappear, but that will never happen. The key is to stop pushing against them and start to feel comfortable in the discomfort of whatever you’re feeling. Emotions—even the ones we don’t like—are part of your information system, and once you accept them as part of your information system, they can become empowering rather than debilitating.

It’s also comforting to remember that difficult emotions don’t last forever. “This too shall pass,” as they say.

Make space to feel sad

When you lose something as the result of a life transition, be it a person, a job, a pet or any of the other things you love and value, feelings of grief often arise.

The key is to be able to say, “This is grief that I’m feeling right now. I’m actually really sad.” Then do what you need to do, talk to someone or cry it out. Sometimes just removing yourself from the situation and going for a walk can help. These little things can help bring you back to the moment and help you get through feelings of sadness or grief.

Don’t forget self-care

We often end up neglecting ourselves when going through a challenging transition. The quick and easy fix is to ask yourself:

  • Have I eaten well today? 
  • Have I had enough water? 
  • Did I get outside? 
  • Did I go for a walk? 
  • Did I get some enjoyable exercise? 
  • Did I record the ups and downs of my life transition in a journal?
  • Did I watch a funny TV show or movie and tune out for a bit in a way I enjoy?

The more you answer “yes” to these questions, the more you start treating yourself with the same kindness you would give to others. This can be immensely comforting because it can quickly produce positive results: Enjoyment, happiness, better health, and so on.

Reach out to others

Another important part of self-care involves asking for help from the people who are close to you.

This means being able to ask them to step up in order for your basic needs to be met. In a relationship, for example, that could mean temporarily shifting household chores from a 50-50 split to 20-80 when your tank is empty.

Three male friends hanging out in coffee shop

While reaching out to people in your circle of trust, consider what is appropriate to share. Professional therapists are great resources here because they are trained to avoid judgment and are required to keep conversations confidential.

Keep social media in check

Looking at social media posts of others’ seemingly perfect lives isn’t helpful when you’re feeling vulnerable. And ‘doom-scrolling’ through bad news stories can suck you into feeling that the world is a terrible, dangerous place.

In reality, however, the world is what you make it, or in Bowie’s words, “Time may change me;  But I can’t trace time.”

What are some of your favourite Bowie lines you can relate to? Share in the comments below!

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