The Stressors and Triumphs of Life’s Transitions
Whether we are prepared for them or not, we have all experienced a major life transition at some point in time. Whether it was a transition from high school to college, employment to unemployment, relaxed to natural hair, the list is infinite. I recently graduated from college and am currently attempting to navigate the transition from adolescence to adulthood (substitute adulthood for fellow taxpayer). Handling major transitions can be an emotional time as we break up with the familiar and become acquainted with the new.
Often times, however, we can feel easily discouraged if we don’t have the support or guidance needed to transition into our new life circumstance. Our inability to cope with this uncertainty can potentially lead us into a temporary state of anxiety or depression. Common symptoms of depression include a persistent sad or "empty" mood, feelings of hopelessness, and loss of interest in hobbies or activities. A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that Black women experience higher rates of depression than any other category in the general population. Black women are also the most under-treated group for depression—meaning that black women that do struggle with depression are not getting treatment.
So what does this have to do with transitions?
Transitions can be a major stressor for anxiety and depression, and yes, it can be a time of uncertainty and disappointment, especially if the transition was unexpected. That being said, it can also be a time of refreshment and empowerment. Tom Stoppard, a British playwright and screenwriter cleverly states: “Look on every exit as being an entrance somewhere else."
In other words, one door closing means another door opening.
The most important factor in influencing our outlook on life transitions is our perspective. Transitions can be a tremendous occasion to learn more about ourselves, meet new people, see new places, and find fresh, new opportunities. Below, I have compiled four strategies to cope with major life transitions. I hope this list not only encourages you to see your life transition differently, but also inspires you to make the most of this new change in your life.
1. TLC said it best—What about your friends?
Support is absolutely essential in any life transition. Moving from Boston back home to California after graduating this May, I could not have coped with the unfamiliarity of being an ‘adult’ at home without the love and assistance I received from friends and my family. Bottom line is, we need people-- whether friends, family, or other support networks -- to help ease our transition. At the end of the day, if you are still feeling down or unsure about your transition, who are you going to call?
2. Be realistic with what you can handle
Sometimes, especially as women, and most especially as black women, we can feel the need to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. We over-commit ourselves, try to help as many people as possible, and think of everyone before ourselves. This can be a good thing, but when life transitions demand our attention, it is important to remember to not overwhelm ourselves. One strategy to ensure we are not overwhelming ourselves is to maintain health self-care. Check out ‘The Radical Act of Self-Care’ on CC speaks". The better we are at managing our time, responsibilities, and own well-being, the easier the transition will be.
3. Consider the gains without dwelling on the losses
The reality is that with every major life change, there will be a few losses. If you are transitioning from relaxed to natural hair, there may be a loss in hair length. If you are transitioning from employed to unemployed, there will be a loss in income. Loss is part of any major life change—and just part of life in general. However, we should not restrain our outlook to only focusing on what we’ve just loss. Just as there is loss, there is also gain in any life transition. Consider this example: If you are newly unemployed, the time you would otherwise be at work gives you the opportunity to discover your passions, spend time with your friends and family, or pursue a career that may satisfy your interests more than your previous job. Once we begin to look past what we have just lost, we give ourselves the opportunity to realize that the possibilities are endless.
4. Ask for help
It can be hard to admit we need help sometimes, but the reality is, we need support to get through difficult periods in life. As black women, our unrelenting desire to exude strength and and independence leads to added stress and mental disorders that often go untreated and undiagnosed. Historically, black women often do not seek care for depression and other mental health conditions. The CDC found that in 2011, only 7.6 percent of African-Americans sought treatment for depression compared to 13.6 percent of the general population. Understandably, it can be hard to ask for help, especially when we are often looked up to as strong role models or the added stress of being black in America forces us into this role of independence. However, transitions are already a time of confusion and change, bearing the full weight on our own without asking for help can make our transition especially overwhelming. For those of us who may feel uncomfortable asking family and friends for help, there are professional services such as counseling and/or therapy. Therapy offers not only practical solutions to handle our challenges, but also provides an outlet to sift through the emotions that result from transitions. For more strategies to combat stress, check out our latest blog post; 10 Things to Try to Kick the Blues and Combat Stress
Remember, transitions present a unique opportunity to depart from the old and step into the new. Utilizing relationships, being realistic with what we can handle, and changing our perspective will help us to not only embrace our new life change, but also enjoy the triumphs that come with every new chapter.
If the example of transitioning from relaxed to natural was relevant for you, I’ve included some helpful links for transitioning. Enjoy :)
Also, please check out our recent post "Transitioning from Relaxed to Natural - Part 1: My Journey" by Alanna Farrar.
About Omlade (Lade) Sogade
Hi, I’m Lade, a rising senior at Harvard College and originally from Macon, Georgia. I study Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology and am pursuing a secondary field in Global Health and Health Policy. In addition to gaining a better understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying diseases, I am also passionate about reducing healthcare disparities in the US and abroad. I plan to attend medical school after college and hope to use my medical degree to study and improve health systems around the world.