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Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: Maintaining emotional balance during a life transition

You may find that big changes in your life—like a move to a retirement residence— can stir up a mixture of emotions that can make you feel a bit off-balance, even when the change is a positive one. The degree to which a move or other change can feel disruptive varies greatly from person to person. Some of us regain our mental equilibrium very quickly, while others go through a longer process of adaptation.

The good news is there are things we can we do to lessen the impact of a major change and speed up regaining our equilibrium. Below are some tips to help you navigate a life transition with less disruption to your emotional balance.

Self-reflect

You can start by asking yourself what you did in the past that helped you feel better when you experienced a major change. Likely there were things that gave you comfort, reduced your stress, and helped you adapt more quickly. You can use those strategies as touchstones as you go through this and other transitions in your life.

Feel and express your emotions

When there’s a major change in your life, it’s important to allow yourself to feel all of the mixed emotions that bubble up. If you are moving into a retirement residence, perhaps you feel sadness over things you are leaving, excitement about the convenience and freedom your new lifestyle will bring, and perhaps a little uncertain about what is to come. You’ll find when you allow yourself to fully feel and express these mixed emotions, they will pass more quickly. What keeps those difficult emotions alive longer is when we try to avoid them at all cost. They become like a rubber ball we are struggling to hold under water, and which inevitably pops up to the surface!

Lean on trusted friends

Giving our feelings a voice may be the very thing that releases them. That’s why you want to call on your emotional support squad! These are the people or person you can turn to when you are having a tough day; the ones who remind you that you’ve gotten through big changes before and thrived, and will again. Not all of the important people in our lives are able to provide this type of support. Some will feel anxious if we talk about having mixed emotions or being uncertain about a change.  Instead, call the person who will just listen and empathize and not try to talk you out of your feelings.

Have some fun

Another tip to help you maintain your emotional balance during a big change is to go have some fun! You may be thinking, “Who has time for fun right now?”, but that’s exactly when you need it the most. Nothing restores our emotional equilibrium better than taking a break and having a laugh, or some time away from managing the change. Consider taking a bubble bath, meeting a friend for coffee or lunch, or going for a long walk. Spending a little time having fun on a regular basis will give you more energy to manage the details and the emotions of your life transition.

Take care of yourself

Don’t forget self-care when going through a big change! It can be more challenging during these times to make sure that we are getting enough rest, eating well and getting exercise, but all of these are necessary to maintain both our physical and emotional balance. It’s hard to be emotionally resilient when we are exhausted!

Rely on the familiar

Finally, focus on the things that aren’t going to change. Research has shown that when we recognize that a change—even a major one—doesn’t impact every area of our life, it can improve our resilience. For example, if you are moving into a retirement residence, you will still have the people and the pursuits you hold most dear after the move; that won’t change. Those major areas of consistency help us better manage the things that are changing.

If you are going through a major change, remember that you have been through changes in the past and thrived. And you can do it again! With a little attention to maintaining your emotional balance, you may even find this change is easier than those in the past, and that you settle into the next chapter of your life quickly and with a sense of adventure.

Dr AmyAbout Dr. Amy D’Aprix

Dr. Amy is a certified senior advisor, Vice President of the International Federation on Aging, and Co-Founder of the Essential Conversations Project. As a gerontological social worker, she has over thirty years of experience working with older adults and their families.