Vol 6. Issue 30 / Oct 9, 2006

Coping with Life's Transitions

By Mika Ono

"It doesn't work to leap a twenty-foot chasm in two ten-foot jumps."

—American proverb

Life's transitions are hard to avoid, and you probably wouldn't want to miss all of them even if you could. Jeff Jones, for instance, is sending his son off to college this year.

"This is a positive thing," said Jones, who is a counseling psychologist with The Scripps Research Institute's Counseling and Psychological Services Department. "Sending him to college is a lot better than seeing him on the living room couch for the next 10 years. I'm happy for him, but I feel stressed."

Transitions were the focus of a recent seminar led by Jones as part of the ongoing Lunch & Learn series for employees on the Scripps Research La Jolla campus. 

What are transitions? According to Jones, transitions are turning points, movements from one role to another, changes in one's life that can be anticipated (as opposed to crises, which are sudden, unanticipated changes). Common transitions include marriage, graduation, immigration, moving, having a child, career advancement, financial adjustments, health-related changes, retirement, and aging. And these sometimes come together—immigration and moving, for example, or having a child and financial adjustments.

As different as these experiences can be from one another, they also have something in common—you and your reaction, which is usually a natural progression from disorientation to reorientation.

Jones talked about three stages of adjustment.

First there are endings, which present an opportunity both to celebrate and to grieve. "Even positive events often come with a sense of loss," noted Jones. "I see this a lot in my class for expectant fathers. Most of them are asking, 'Will my life ever be the same again?' In the class, we focus on recognizing the endings—for example, less time with one's partner and fewer quiet evening out—while bringing attention to the many unique and wonderful experiences that lie ahead."

The second stage is the neutral zone—being in limbo. "This is where I am with my son," he observed. "This can be a difficult stage, because it can feel unproductive, like you're spinning your wheels, disconnected with the past and emotionally unconnected with the present."

Finally, new beginnings emerge. Individuals launch new priorities, develop a new sense of identity, and build a sense of momentum.

Getting to the new beginnings stage is an art. In general, anything that you can do to increase your sense of control and encourage an active attitude of problem-solving will help.

Jones's tips for coping include:

  • Accept change. "This can be the most difficult thing to do," he said. "Talking it out can make a difference."

  • Gather information. This can include reading, researching your options, and talking to others who have been through a similar transition.

  • Learn to pace yourself. "Transitions can be overwhelming," Jones said. "Be careful not to overextend."

  • Enlist help and support from others. If you've moved, this can involve using the phone and email.

  • Accept your own feelings about the transition. Sometimes change stirs up feelings of guilt or shame. Don't let these feelings get in the way of moving forward to a new beginning.

  • Focus your energy on solving problems. Be active. Make a plan.

To cope with his transition, Jones is reading books on having adult children, talking to friends whose children recently left for college, and hoping that away from home his son will develop maturity and communication skills that will enhance their relationship.

"Change offers opportunity," said Jones. So, look for that silver lining.

Counseling & Psychological Services Department offers a lending library that includes the book "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes" by William Bridges, as well as recordings of this and other Lunch & Learn seminars. The department also provides no-cost confidential, professional counseling services to Scripps Research health insurance-eligible employees, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and their family members. For more information, see the Counseling and Psychological Services web site or contact Jones, jjones@scripps.edu or x4-2063, or Jan Hill, janhill@scripps.edu or x4-2950.


Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu












"Change offers opportunity."

—Jeff Jones