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Change can be difficult, and life transitions—such as relocating to a new city, getting a divorce, or starting a new job—can be stressful.
It’s normal—and even healthy—to experience a certain amount of stress and anxiety during a life transition. Our bodies and minds need to adjust to our new lifestyle, which might feel unsettling and uncomfortable.
Some life transitions are difficult and stressful, such as the death of a loved one, unemployment, and aging. In any case, stress and anxiety can arise, as well as feelings of depression, grief, and other mental health problems.
Life Transitions and Mental Health
Life transitions are stressful for everyone, and even adjusting to positive changes can cause stress. For some people, the stress of change can be enough to induce mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. In some cases, the symptoms of mental illness become evident around significant changes in life. For example, in adolescence, major changes may include starting school, transitioning to middle school, or increasing high school demands.
For young adults, transitioning to a college environment can be challenging, and college students are especially vulnerable to mental health problems. In adulthood, life changes include starting a new job, marriage and divorce, the loss of friends and family members, aging, and retirement. According to the National Institutes of Health, stressful life changes are generally more prevalent among older adults.
Working from home, unemployment, school closures, and social distancing under COVID-19 have forced many people to make significant lifestyle changes. Adjusting to substantial changes and coping with the fear of contracting the virus are challenging for everyone, and can be especially difficult for individuals with mental disorders. It’s essential to pay attention to your mental health during life transitions and reach out for help.
Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Problems
Although stress and anxiety affect everyone differently, individuals who find it difficult to adjust a life transition may experience mental health symptoms such as:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Low energy
- Digestive issues
- Frequent illness
- Decreased sex drive
- Significant increase in appetite or loss of appetite
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Social isolation
- Substance abuse
Periods of acute stress—like significant lifestyle changes—can also exacerbate mental health problems among individuals with psychiatric disorders like anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorders.
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What should you do if you’re having trouble adjusting to life changes?
If stress and anxiety surrounding a life transition affect your daily life, the good news is that help is available. The symptoms of stress may improve with time, but an individual may also be able to prevent mental health problems by:
- Seeking professional help. In response to COVID-19, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has taken steps to relax HIPAA regulations, enabling increased access to online therapy, counseling, and mental health services. Whether you’re struggling with a mental health crisis or entering a new stage of life, working with a mental health provider or social worker can help you navigate difficult life transitions with proven tools and techniques.
- Reaching out for social support. Friends and family members can create a supportive environment, promote positive behaviors, and help you navigate change. Also, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) offers several support groups and educational resources for individuals with mental health conditions, including NAMI Basics and NAMI Family-to-Family.
- Taking time to relax. Focusing on your physical health can make it easier to cope with life transitions. For caregivers, healthcare workers, and other frontline workers, dealing with lifestyle and workload changes surrounding COVID-19 can be especially tricky. Maintaining healthy sleep patterns, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet can help to improve your mental health. Additionally, intentionally creating time to relax and do the things you enjoy—whether that’s art therapy, scheduling a virtual appointment with therapy dogs, or finding new ways to connect with family members—can ease the transition.
- Researching the upcoming change. Stress often develops out of fear of the unknown. If you’re anxious or stressed about a significant change, like a difficult diagnosis or move to a new city, it’s good to research your upcoming life change to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Therapy for Life Transitions
Whether you’re moving to a new city, starting a new job, or moving to a nursing home, it’s essential to find a licensed therapist specializing in the type of life transition you’re experiencing.
With increased access to therapy sessions and remote mental health services in response to COVID-19, individuals can choose their preferred type of online therapy. Several types of treatment can be an effective treatment for individuals experiencing significant changes or adverse events, including:
- Talk therapy
- Group therapy
- Couples therapy
- Family therapy
- Psychotherapy, i.e., psychodynamic or cognitive-behavior therapy
To find a mental health provider, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist through WithTherapy. In addition to helping you find a good fit, WithTherapy’s unique matchmaking service will connect you to a healthcare professional you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. One of the mental health professionals on the WithTherapy platform will help you learn different ways to cope with stress and anxiety surrounding life transitions.