Life finds us in many stages of transition! Kids grow up, we move houses, we change jobs, we age, our parents age….but if our constant is change: then why is transition so difficult?
Some changes are exciting like vacations, new starts (first day of school!), a new job, and babies! Some changes rock our world: like divorces, hormone shifts and deaths.
Expected changes sit a little differently than unexpected. Either way-change can produce disorientation and feelings of insecurity. Familiar circumstances are just that…familiar. It’s completely normal to feel unsettled when changes take place, whether it’s expected or not. Our brains are wired for patterns. (My husband needed to move the place where he kept his car keys. That was 6 months ago and he still can’t remember that they have been moved.)
Part of our brain (the amygdala) immediately interprets big and unexpected changes as a threat. It sends us into fight or flight or fear. It’s the body’s way of trying to protect you. But it doesn’t feel so gret in our bodies.
Come along with me as I recall a state of great transition, it’s impact and how I handled it. The short version: I didn’t do it well! I will also identify coping skills to deal with the ever present changes of our lives.
The year was 2016. Our oldest was in college. Our youngest had plans to graduate early. We began discussing downsizing. I wasn’t even sure I wanted it. We had raised our kids in a grand home. It sat on an acre, the front yard was full of enormous trees and the porch wrapped all around the front. The backyard was full of poolside memories.
I am typically good at purging and cleansing on a continual basis. For more than a year I began to tackle closets, drawers, and cabinets. I was constantly going to Goodwill. BUT the whole time I was dreading the move. I dreaded life without kids, it seemed like they had always been with us. I wondered how it would feel to give up so much space…in the yard, in the garage, in my beloved laundry room. This move was going to coincide with empty nesting. I wish I could tell you I was excited about all this change, but I wasn’t. I was anxious and worried.
We listed the house and it sold quickly. We found a smaller home with a significantly smaller yard. And when it actually came time to move, I got rid of even more stuff. You won’t believe what I discovered: I LIKED having less…less space and less stuff. It gave me such a sense of freedom. Having less house was not only less expensive but so much less responsibility. I told anyone who would listen: if i had known downsizing would be so freeing I would have done it years ago!
So all is well now, right? No not really. At this stage of my life I still was accustomed to the drama of worrying. Our son decided he would NOT graduate early. Well now I have a new single focus, worrying about becoming an empty nester. Maybe it was valid, we hadn’t really prioritized a lot of US time.
We owned and operated a gym together so we were often together. Because of that I couldn’t understand the need to date. (If I had that to do over again, I would definitely choose different.) I found myself wondering: What is there to our marriage without the kids around? What will we talk about? I tried to reassure myself that we started without kids, surely we could go back to that.
Soon our son graduated and within a couple of weeks he was gone. Not just off to school. He moved away to California to pursue his dreams.
We started going on coffee dates. I can’t explain it but the change of scenery opened up all kinds of conversations. We quickly found our way back to life without kids and it turned out to be a delightful transition. Now I like to say: empty nesting is just like dating except this time there’s way more money!
Do you see the pattern here? I dreaded moving but it turned out to be one of my life’s greatest choices. I dreaded empty nesting but it was grand. What about all that wasted worry? What about all that time I spent dreading two very normal life changes?
I hate to think about the impact that had on my self and those around me. Anxiety and stress were prevalent. I was so overwhelmed that even making simple decisions felt like a major ordeal. I even had trouble sleeping.
At the core of it all were concerns about my image: I liked being the owner of the big beautiful home with the grand yard and the pool. I loved being a mom. I was proud of my kids and their activities. Yet my lack of enthusiasm made me feel ungrateful. What is wrong with me that I’m not eagerly looking forward to years alone with my husband?
I think I can boil it down to this: I had been defining my worth by my kids and house. And if my worth was in them, then who was I without them?
So how did i make it through? I have a strong support system in my family, faith and friends. I’m kind of an open book and I’m a verbal processor so I just talked about it often. I lived one day after the other. I got by. But I don’t want to live a life of ‘just getting by.’ I want a thriving life and I’m guessing that you want that, too.
Let’s talk about that 18 months of wasted worry. That’s a long time to spend dreading a normal life change. I am not a fan of regret. I’m more interested in learning from my mistakes. Spending my energy worrying about things that never happened is NOT how I want to show up for my life.
So what do I have to share from my experience? Because I would love nothing more than to save you the angst I experienced.
- Have a gentle dialogue with yourself when you find yourself worrying: Sweet girl, remember how you worried about __ ? And __? And then it all worked out. Chances are that this will too. Even IF the thing I fear comes true, I’ll have plenty to deal with once it happens. Let’s not potentially waste time worrying. (*start collecting a list of things you worried about that never happened!)
- Remind yourself that it’s natural to feel unsettled during times of transition. Take a moment to acknowledge your discomfort and then decide just how much you want to let that effect your daily existence.
- Find ways to celebrate what you are leaving behind. Share memories of the house you are leaving, celebrate new milestones that your child had there. Start looking for the good things that are a result of the new stage.
I wish I had a Life Coach to get me through that time with more grace, but I didn’t even know what one was then. If you find yourself stuck or in a situation of overwhelming change/transition, I’m here to help. If you find yourself with things to celebrate in your new stage? I’m here to celebrate with you. Want to schedule a consult call? https://calendly.com/sfpcoaching/life-coaching
Either way, Go! Enjoy your grand life! It’s amazing!