My Mother always told me that, "The only constant in life, is change." She couldn't have been more right. As we go forward in life, transitions whether minor or major are unavoidable. Sometimes these life transitions are on purpose like taking a new job or deciding to go to college, other times they are unexpected like parents divorcing or a loved one passing away suddenly. However these changes come about or how long they last, dealing with times of transition can be extremely emotional and challenging.
You'd think that by the time we are considered "elderly" we'd have figured out how to cope with changes and transitions, but unfortunately for transitions like leaving a job, losing family members and friends, and moving into nursing homes become more frequent and are found to be extremely difficult for aging adults. If you or a loved one find yourselves stuck in one of these hard transitional periods, here are some tips to make things easier:
1. Realize when one door closes, another opens. As many times as you've heard it before, it never gets old because it usually rings true. It may be difficult to envision the future in this very moment, but don't let yourself dwell too much on the past. Push yourself to look forward and acknowledge the fresh possibilities ahead. Look at this time as an opportunity to grow and be the author of this next chapter in life.
2. Expect the unexpected as far as your emotional state goes- and expect to be sad about it. Transitions can be challenging because it feels like a big part of life is ending, and with it, some sense of our identity is lost. Naturally, this feeling of lost identity can cause us to grieve as we attempt to move forward. In life, we tend to define ourselves partly by our surroundings, so when those surroundings change, your role in the new surrounding changes too. Think about an individual who has just retired. They may have previously seen themselves as their last job title, but now with no job duties or responsibilities to complete and no coworkers validating the good work they have done, they might be left feeling hopeless and confused. Allowing yourself to feel those emotions doesn't mean you'll feel that way forever. It makes you human, and that is ok.
3. Change your focus. Shift focus from your current situation to another person that could use your time or help. It's of course very important to take care of yourself, reflect, and feel during transitional periods, but too much focus on the negative emotions of grief and uncertainty won't help you either. Give yourself a break and look at the people in your life who could use a helping hand. Maybe a friend is having a bad day, perhaps ask them to talk or simply letting them know they are loved could change their day, and yours around! Making efforts to support others reminds us all that everyone has struggles in life, and we are not alone.
4. One day at a time. Don't make yourself crazy trying to predict the future. Transitional periods are named that because they are simply a period of time in your life. They aren't forever and the way you are feeling right now won't last forever. Take things one day at a time and don't set unrealistic time frames or expectations for yourself. Set small goals and small time-lines to boost your confidence moving forward and eventually you'll be able to set those long-term goals once you're in a more stable state.
5. Find your support system AND talk to them. No matter how big or small, having a strong support system can make all the difference during times of change. Reach out and stay in communication with your family and friends. They aren't mind readers and may not be able to tell when you are having bad days or struggling with something. Find people you can be honest with and who will allow you to share your feelings in a "safe" place without judgment or negative feedback.
If you find your support system dwindling as you get older, consider looking into talk therapy to have someone you can speak with on a regular basis and who will be an unbiased ear. Some therapists even specialize in life transitions.
6. Remember- you've gotten through life transitions before! It may have been years ago, and a completely different situation, but remembering that you've gotten through tough times before can give you strength when you need it most. Also, reflecting on past transitional periods might help you remember who it was you talked to that made a difference in you feeling better, or what you did to move forward when you thought it wasn't possible.
We are all in this crazy thing called life together. When we lose loved ones or experience trying times, it's easy to forget that fact. Caregivers and health care practitioners should pay special attention to seniors' mental health as they experience tough transitions. Looking for the signs of depression and anxiety in order to get that person professional care or extra support are key to getting on the right path to healing.