Why Are Transitions So Difficult?

Samantha Curiale-Feinman, MS.Ed., TSHH, Director

Casey Schmalacker, Operations Manager


“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” –Chinese Proverb

Everyone has the potential to struggle in some capacity when transitioning from the familiar to the unfamiliar. We experience big transitions, such as graduating from school into the workforce or moving from one location to another, as well as small transitions, such as daily schedule changes or last minute additions to responsibilities. Regardless of whether they are big or small, transitions can paralyze someone from making progress forward. Let’s explore why transitions can be challenging and the best strategies for coping as one becomes an independent adult.


Why may transitions be difficult?

People need to demonstrate the ability to transition and be flexible not only throughout the day and on a daily basis, but also when moving through more long-term life milestones. We all process information in different ways, and transitioning from one activity or life event to another can cause a disruption in what is comforting and predictable to us. This disruption can then result in problematic behaviors, avoidance, or shutting down from responsibilities. As an individual matures, and the need to be able to transition increases, the goal is to find ways to cope with change, rather than to push it away.


How can individuals manage transitions?


Validate Your Feelings: Know that it is okay to feel uncomfortable during transition. Positive self-talk can come in very handy at these times, reminding yourself of things such aswithout change, there is no progressorthis is a new chapter in my life and things will get easier over time.


Use Visual Cues: Individuals may cope better when they have an established routine; however, this may not always be within one’s control. Using visual cues, such as a written or electronic copy of a schedule, with real-time edits made to reflect schedule changes, can help you anticipate and identify what will occur next and what is out of your typical routine.


Use Auditory Cues: The use of a timer, such as one on a wristwatch or a phone, can be used to provide cues for when a transition is about to take place. This warning prompt can provide you with an additional few moments to adjust to what is coming next.


Schedule Mindfully: If possible, try not to place challenging tasks back to back. Instead, sandwich more difficult responsibilities between two that are more enjoyable. This forethought keeps you from transitioning from one perceived stress or pressure to another.


Plan in advance: Before a transition occurs, walk through and practice what will be different to get used to the “new normal”. For example, when the transition is school related, such as moving from elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, or high school to college, have the student go to the new school environment. Help them familiarize themselves with their new route and the routine of their changed schedule.


Be Prepared for the Unexpected: Individuals should have a plan of action for when the unexpected occurs. Sometimes knowing who you can go to for help and asking for it can be the best strategy to get over the obstacle of managing the unexpected. Self-advocacy is key.


Transitions are those times when we just tend to feel uneasy about the unknown. But with a positive mindset towards the future and the strategies to be proactive during the process in place, the discomfort will eventually subside. Focus on your goals and hit the ground running.

And remember, “Transitions themselves are not the issue, but how well you respond to their challenges!” - Jim George



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