The Impact of Transitions and How to Cope with Them

Transitions in life can cause emotional disruption, even if they bring about positive changes. The death of a loved one inevitably causes major transitions, in terms of one’s role, identity, meaning and lifestyle. In this article, Cruse Scotland volunteer, Saboohi Gill, explores the psychological impacts of transitions and offers tips on how to cope with life’s challenges and changes.

September 10, 2021

The meaning of ‘transition’

The meaning of transition is synonymous with change, move, shift, leap, progression or development. Its definition as a noun is the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. In our daily life, a major transition can be observed when a chapter in our life is closed or a new one starts. Transitions bring new opportunities for progression and development, however, transitions can cause instability, fear of the unknown, and failure; all of which can be overwhelming. Therefore, transitions can be more challenging if people are set/rigid in their ways of thinking or acting, and feel insecure about their lack of control over aspects of life.

Types of transition

Transitions might be expected or unexpected, welcome or unwelcome, chosen or imposed, sudden or gradual. The fact that they bring change and challenges can make people feel overwhelmed.

There are 4 types of transitions:

  1. Anticipated Transition
  2. Unanticipated Transitions
  3. Non-event Transitions
  4. Sleeper Transition

Anticipated Transitions are predictable and awaited, as they follow a specific timeline in a grown person’s life. These transitions are planned and considered, as the different stages of a normal life cycle, throughout different cultures. Transitions such as high school graduation, finding a job, finding a life partner, getting married and having a child are predictable. Proper support can make these transitions smooth whilst lack of support may elicit crisis.

Unanticipated Transitions involve events that are not expected. An example of this can be the Covid-19 pandemic which pushed people into unfamiliarity, isolation and loneliness. Those who have lost a loved one during this pandemic are experiencing severe anxiety; unable to find closure through attending funerals, visiting graves or performing social rituals. Other examples of unanticipated transitions are sudden illness, divorce or joblessness. However, there is always the potential for personal growth if people have the patience and flexibility to take new initiatives with courage, accept bitter realities and let go of the past.

Non-event Transitions are those transitions that we expect to happen but do not occur. For example, not having children when one had always wanted to become a parent, or not finding a meaningful career.

Sleeper Transitions occur gradually and the individual might not even be aware of the progression. This might involve becoming competent in one’s profession and getting a good job. This can also involve the end of a difficult relationship.

Common feelings and responses towards transitions

  • In transitions, it is common for people to experience fear, anxiety, excitement and self-doubt caused by the unknown. People find transitions challenging as they force us to face uncertainty and leave familiar and known ways behind.
  • Transitions take place when people lose a relationship, role, identity, job or a loved one.
  • Typically, the type of transition is not critical but the way it changes the role, relationships and perceptions of individuals make it challenging. That is the reason why, even if transitions are planned and wanted, we might still feel overwhelmed.
  • After transitioning, it takes time to get familiarised with the ‘new normal’. As the brain needs time to get used to doing things differently, planned or positive changes can also be challenging.

Transition anxiety

During major life transitions, psychological effects can be observed as severe anxiety and low mood. Stress or anxiety are triggered by the fear of changes and an unknown future. When overestimating the regrets, sadness and challenges transitions bring, and underestimating one’s capacity to cope and manage, self-doubt is generated. Transition anxiety can affect people of all ages and at any stage, however, young people are more likely to experience it.

Coping with stress and anxiety during transitions

Acceptance of new reality

People who have the attitude that changes are an inevitable part of life appear to cope with them more efficiently. Individuals who perceive changes as negative and something to be avoided tend to make them problematic. It is important to acknowledge what is left behind and let go of the known ways before you embrace new realities.

Prepare to feel uncomfortable

Times of transition bring feelings of uncertainty, confusion and distress. Instead of pushing these feelings aside, acknowledge them and express them in writing or in another creative way because it can help to manage them better. Talking to trusted people about your feelings can also be helpful.

Transitions are challenges, not threats

Changes, apart from being challenging, also provide new opportunities to learn and grow. Therefore, focusing on positive aspects can help develop a positive attitude to manage transitions. Noticing how efficiently you managed changes in the past provides you with opportunities to be reflexive of your values, beliefs, goals – and furthermore, you can become self-aware of your weaknesses, strengths and overcome your fears.

Put things in order before embracing a transition

Getting things in order before a move can reduce the physical and mental stress of repositioning.

Take it easy

When your life is uprooted, be patient and take time to adjust to the new situation. While you let go of your past and try to get used to the new reality, feelings of unease are normal. Therefore, it is important to be kind to yourself and have realistic expectations.

Have realistic goals

While experiencing the feelings of fear and anxiety during transitions, try to have attainable goals. It is wise to manage your goals and allow yourself to gain a sense of achievement instead of taking too much on and feeling like a failure. Slow and steady progress can help you gain confidence and control over new situations.

Avoid drugs or drinking

Drugs or drinking can make the procedure of transitions harder and more confusing. So, staying sober and addressing your challenges with a clear mind is the best option.


Transition, even positive and planned one can be stressful. Consequently, taking good care of yourself during those times such as eating well-balanced food, getting some exercise and getting good sleep is very important. Keep some daily routines consistent as that will help to cope with other things changing around you. Try to keep have some activities which can help you feel happy and relaxed.

Support network

It is important to have family or friends around you who can support you without judging or undermining your abilities. Staying connected with people, even on the telephone or online, can be helpful, rather than facing changes on your own. Especially talking to people with shared experiences can strengthen emotions and give motivation along with practical advice to tackle your issues.

Transitions through grief and loss

Many life changes find us even though we don’t look for them. Changes brought upon people through death and grief are such examples as most people have very little or no control over death. In my view, nothing can prepare us to cope with the death of a loved one and sudden death can be even more traumatic. While this pandemic has changed our lives on so many levels, it has also left so many people struggling with the loss of their loved ones.

Transitions through death can be hard, including changes in role, identity, financial changes and change of home. People try to cope with these changes with shock and denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance and reorganisation. In their efforts to find a new meaning for their lives and accept their new reality after the loss of a loved one, people experience a lot of pain and distress.

Self-care while coping with transitions caused by death

  • Accept your pain
  • Be aware of your feelings of hurt, grief and other emotions which may be triggering.
  • To deal with your emotions, become expressive and creative – for instance, write in a journal or write a letter to your loved one.
  • Be mindful of the fact that each individual’s grieving process is different and unique. Similarly, the grieving period varies based on the intensity of grief and one’s relationship with the deceased.
  • Taking good care of yourself physically is important to stay strong mentally so try to have some routines and hobbies.
  • Stay in touch with the people who care about you and join a support group where you feel safe to share your feelings and fears.
  • Your faith and spirituality can also be a great source of strength.
  • Bear in mind that there is a difference between grieving and depression. In case of depression, which impairs one’s daily life, it would be wise to seek professional help.

If you are struggling to cope with the death of a friend or loved one, please reach out to us. We’re here to help. Call our free helpline: 0808 802 6161, or use the webchat service on this site.

The Impact of Transitions and How to Cope with Them

About the Author

Saboohi Gill – Cruse Scotland Volunteer

Saboohi is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist who helps clients experiencing anxiety, depression, anger, trauma, PTSD, addictions, bereavement and relationship problems. She worked for 11 years with oppressed, depressed women who suffered domestic abuse. For the last 2 years she has been working as a CBT therapist with people suffering from complex grief and trauma. Psychology and theology are Saboohi’s passions and she has an MA Honours degree in Theology and Religious Studies (World Religion). Saboohi finds it intriguing to learn about people’s beliefs, how it impacts their way of being and their interactions with others. Saboohi supports an essential interfaith dialogue; she believes accepting and respecting our differences can reduce religious and cultural tensions. Saboohi has three children and a very supportive husband. She writes poetry, enjoys music, nature and food.