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One of the most difficult realities of life is that change is the only constant. Seasons change, people come and go, all that lives dies. We often spend so much of our lives trying to achieve our goals, arrange our lives in the manner we desire, and hang onto pleasant situations and avoid unpleasant ones. Sometimes, what is good lasts and what is hard ends quickly; at other times, the reverse is true. One thing to remember is that change often a stressor, and if you have experienced major changes in your life – such a losing a job or relationship, moving, or entering a new phase of life like retirement or “the empty nest” – stress is a near certainty, and quite normal. Therapy can help you make changes in yourself to adjust to changes outside yourself. It can also help you get in touch with what is enduring, such as your values, strengths, close social support system, and spiritual faith.
Research by psychologists over many years has produced the following list of stressful events. Do any apply to you? Add up their values and give yourself a score. If your score is over 40, therapy is probably a good idea to consider, and if it is over 60, therapy is highly recommended.
STRESSFULNESS LIFE EVENT
100 Death of spouse
65 Marital separation
63 Jail term
63 Death of close family member (except spouse)
45 Marital reconciliation
44 Change in health of family member (not self)
39 Gain of new family member
39 Business readjustment
38 Change in financial state
37 Death of close friend
36 Change to different occupation
35 Change in number of arguments with spouse
31 Mortgage over $40,000
30 Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
29 Trouble with in-laws
28 Outstanding personal achievement
26 Spouse begins or stops work
25 Change in living conditions
24 Change in personal habits (self or family)
23 Trouble with boss
20 Change in work hours or conditions
20 Change in residence
19 Change in recreation
19 Change in church activities
18 Change in social activities
17 Mortgage or loan less than $40,000
16 Change in sleeping habits
13 Change in eating habits
11 Minor violations of the law
Many people are aware of the “serenity prayer” from the 12 step tradition: “Grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” One thing we cannot change, is change. In Buddhism, the most popular religion in China and Japan, a core teaching is “impermanence”. There is so much that is out of our control. Change can happen anytime; in fact, it is always occurring. Life stages change; we move from child to adult to elder. Our finances change, for better or worse (and both can be stressful). Relationships change. People change. Beliefs and goals change.
Trudy, 57, enters therapy because she has become suddenly depressed and anxious after many years of feeling healthy and adaptive. Upon exploration, the therapist discovers she has been pressured to retire early by her employers, with an excellent pension and severance pay. Her husband wants her to take the offer, but Trudy feels terrified of having “nothing to do all day” and feels threatened in terms of her identity, insisting “my job is who I am.” The therapist works with Trudy to first enable her to determine whether she is ready for retirement yet (she isn’t) and then to face the reality that retirement is just around the corner, and to discover what activities she can explore to keep meaning and joy in her life. By examining her skills and values, Trudy is able to identify both leisure and volunteer activities and begin to make peace with her impending change of life stage. She also explores her fear of death and being alone and is able to begin working through those feelings.
Dave, 22, is anxious about finding a job and defining himself after graduating college. The transition is made more difficult by the loss of his father, who died of cancer. Talking about his feelings is hard for Dave, but doing so begins immediately to help him feel better. The therapist helps him identify his life goals, spiritual beliefs, and support system, and also normalizes his feelings of fear, about which Dave initially felt rather ashamed. Dave feels her is not ready to commit to a life-time career yet, and the therapist also validates Dave’s desire to first explore life’s many possibilities before “settling down”.
We all have had to adapt throughout our lifetime and change directions at times. Do you have a personal story you would like to share about adjusting to change or coping with your own life transitions? If so, you are invited to submit an originally written story about your experiences focused on healing, mental well-being, and personal growth to GoodTherapy.org's Share Your Story. Stories that are chosen for publication will be featured on The Good Therapy Blog, so other readers can find wisdom, strength, and support from your story.
Last updated: 05-02-2014
Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions Articles