Adults in Transition, Managing Life’s Changes and Challenges

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Are things changing in your life? Are you facing new or difficult challenges and feeling the stress?

Life brings changes and challenges, some expected, some unexpected, any of which can cause stress, discomfort, or pain. Often these issues leave you feeling isolated and alone. A transition is a time of adjustment or a time of crisis. Change in our society is happening at an unprecedented rate, transitions are occurring more frequently, and levels of stress are increasing.

Life’s changes and challenges result in transitions when one chapter of life ends and the next is waiting to be written. All transitions are comprised of an ending, a middle period of uncertainty, confusion or distress, and a new beginning. Every transition starts with an ending. When successfully addressed, transitions can result in personal development and self-renewal.

From expected changes such as empty nest, retirement or moving to a new location, to the most difficult of life’s challenges such as divorce, loss of a loved one, or being fired from a job, varying levels of stress can occur and often with associated depression and anxiety. Relationships and work situations are especially vulnerable to stress. Even positive changes such as being in a new relationship, getting married or starting in a new career can evoke unexpected stress.

Endings and moving on from them require examining the past. Endings must be recognized and accepted. Endings must be dealt with. Sometimes it requires examining answers to such questions as, “What happened?” “What went wrong?”

Endings are especially difficult when life is not turning out the way you planned. Moving on often requires letting go – letting go of past circumstances, past roles, past expectations. This is difficult because people’s lives are defined by their roles and life circumstances. In many cases, people strenuously resist the inevitable change. Often it requires taking one step at a time.

Stress inherently accompanies transitions and can occur in all stages. As indicated by a recent study done at Carnegie Mellon University, levels of stress are increasing in our society. Based on self-reported stress levels, the study found that American’s stress levels have increased 10-30% in the past three decades. Women, young people and low income Americans indicated experiencing the most stress with men catching up fast. High stress levels have been linked to a greater risk for physical and psychological health problems.

Adults need coping strategies to face challenges and often need help to navigate the disappointments that come with life not following the intended script. Having to adjust to change has become the norm in today’s society. Those who are unable to adapt are in danger of becoming trapped in their own difficult circumstances.

Transitions are often frightening or traumatic. They are often turning points when one finds oneself having to cope with an unexpected crisis situation. Coping is complex and sensitive to the issues and the personality of the person going through the transition.

Transitions do not occur in a vacuum. Sometimes there is concurrent stress or a succession of stressful events. For example, when a person has been fired from work and is in a very difficult financial situation, a great deal of stress can be put on a marriage and result in divorce. Sometimes life throws a series of unrelated transitions that are very difficult to deal with in succession, such as the nest having just emptied, having to file for bankruptcy, and becoming a care giver for an elderly parent, one transition after another.

Resources for coping can be learned, and how one handles the middle period of transition with its attending confusion and stress will determine the path and success of the new beginning. It is a time of preparation for new possibilities and new growth. It is always a transition from something to something.

When facing a transition in your life or the inevitability of one, ask yourself the following questions: What do I need to let go of? What is waiting on the sidelines? What are my resources? Am I ready for the next chapter? What is my next step and what are the consequences? Set your goals wisely. Choose a reachable goal and make a daily plan. Create a mental image of your intended goal that will help you focus. Learn how to manage the butterflies by practicing relaxation, meditation, deep breathing, or some other method. Channel your nervous energy. Practice positive self-talk.

Hope plays an integral role in achieving success when facing the changes and challenges of transitions. Those who have hope are more likely to develop effective strategies. This often requires abandoning old ways to make way for coming up with new and effective ways of dealing with what is happening in your life.

It is a certainty: change will happen. Be willing to let go and move on. Be willing to reach in and to reach out. Hold on to hope. 


The evolution of life involves stability and change, continuity and discontinuity, orderly progression as well as stasis, regression, and chaotic flux. – Daniel Levinson


Susan Mason