'Transitional Lows' coping with the pain of change

For some personality types change is very costly indeed. Very often these individuals have suffered from more significant period of anxiety or depression in the past and they have become very self aware, perhaps hypersensitive to, the possibility of a recurrence in the future. I have been working with a number of individuals recently who are suffering what I call a 'transitional low'. it is interesting that I tend to have many more of these encounters in September and January than at any other time of year. Obviously these months mark the beginning of the academic and the calender years and correlate with a multitude of significant changes such as moving house, starting a new school or new job, beginning a new term or even returning from a holiday.

I hope to offer some constructive view on these 'transitional lows', in part recognising that they do bear some relationship to depressive feelings but that they don't have to mark the beginning of a deeper experience of it. (At the same time it is important to note that some transitions can be the trigger for something more significant such as pregnancy with PND, bereavement with grief and trauma with PTSD so it is always important to seek professional advice.)

I think it is important for people with a sensitive personality type to be aware that they tend to feel things more keenly that the general population. Being 'tuned in' to ones feelings is both beneficial and costly, it is good to be self aware, but it can mean that one feels more pain than those who charge through change without too much reflection. The anticipation that change is going to be traumatic can also leave one asking, 'am I really coping, what if this tips me over the edge?'

People who have encountered anxiety and depression in the past often loose a little confidence in their ability to deal with change or trauma. They can make negative predictions about the impact of change which further spikes their anxiety when changes do come. However, more serious depressions tend not to be predicted or foreseen, rather they creep up over a long period of time. It is often said that the period of time over which a depression has developed reflects the period of time over which recovery will be made. I.e if a depression has been building over 18months it will take 18months to recover from it. Of course this is a very imprecise science and every depression is different.

I highlight this because 'transitional lows' tend to stem from very short lived changes in circumstances; moving house, changing jobs, beginning a new school etc. There is very often a 4 week lead time to the change and then a 1 week lag time before the transition is fully felt. It seems typical that people feel heightened anxiety for the 2 weeks before the transition, hitting the transitional low on the 2nd week of residence in their new setting.

Because of their heightened awareness and the general anxiety encompasses the change itself, the low is doubly compounded. Very often there are high stakes to 'failure' in these new settings which further exacerbate feelings of being trapped and despairing. Depressive self talk around these transitions can include things like, "What if I cant do this job and have to leave after one day? What if I hate this house and miss my family? I bet I am going to get bullied at this school! I am sure to fail, this is going to be so humiliating!

These negative predictions intertwine with the genuine cares and concerns that would be completely normal for anyone entering a new environment or phase of life. Recognising the discomfort that change brings to the wider population is a very healing perspective. Very often during these 'transitional lows' the individual can fail to recognise the difficulties that others are facing in transition. It is also extremely common to see family members going through the same transitions pretending that they are absolutely fine in an attempt to 'jolly' the more sensitive individual through the transition. Sadly this very rarely works but rather compounds their sense of isolation and failure.

How then can we effectively manage a 'transitional low'?

Prepare well for the change. Try to avoid suppressing your fears about the change that you are facing before it happens. At the same time be very specific about what you are fearing and avoid making concrete predictions of negative future outcomes. (i.e I WILL fail). Talk through your fears and concerns with a mature and trusted person who is not going through the transition with you.

Plan the transition well. Very often people make transition in a burn period where they discard all normal life rhythm. Take your time in transition, especially moving house etc. make sure that you plan breaks, meals, relaxation time and get the right level of support. If you are starting a new job or school, plan in meeting old friends within the first week to talk through your new experiences.

Don't be stoic. Keeping your low feelings to yourself for the sake of others or putting on a brave face, will not make your transition easier. Be honest and real about what you are feeling, despite the fact that everyone is saying, "You should be over the moon about this promotion, new house, new baby, new school...." Avoid telling yourself how you 'should' feel and feel what you are feeling.

Be confident that you are reacting the the transition. Very often people suffering from a 'transitional low' mistakenly think that they are coincidentally entering into a major depression at the same time as they are experiencing a life change. This is rarely the case. Use sympathetic and nurturing self talk to coach yourself through, "I am feeling low right now and that is OK. Any normal person would feel low if they were leaving their friends behind even if their new job is great." "I am grieving what I am leaving and that will help me really embrace what I am starting".

Spread your eggs! Often in transition we focus just on the things that have changed. Remember that you are more than the change and that your life is broader than your circumstances. Invest yourself in church, clubs, the gym, family, and friends. If you have moved, find and new church, register at a new GP's, find a gym, ask people where the best local walks are etc..Do the things that you used to do to stay balanced and bright.

Be patient. This is only a transition, it is not entrenched pain. Change does hurt and this will be a tough time but you can do it. Pray that God wouldn't take away the pain of the transition, but that he would be with you in it. Allow his Holy Spirit to minister to you as you grieve what has past and embrace what lies ahead.

With prayers in your 'transitional low'

Will Van Der Hart, 14/09/2011
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