Coping With Major Life Changes: What Is Transitional Anxiety Syndrome?

I don’t know about you, but I was never a big fan of major change. Or to put that slightly differently, I’ve never been a great role-model of coping well with making major life transitions.   Now, when I say the words “major transitions”—over the course of adult life– I’m especially referring to six possible ones:

  1. Starting a new job or leaving one;
  2. Getting married or at least moving in together, or ending the relationship;
  3. Changing home residence;
  4. Entering retirement;
  5. Having children who are about to leave the nest; and
  6. Making a sexual identity transition ( Becoming more and more relevant in this day and age)

What they all share in common though are two things.  One, there’s plenty of room for anxiety kicking in all along the way, before and during the transition. And two, every major transition involves some significant shift in level and type of responsibility.  Put these two things together, and you get: the more significant the shift in responsibility is after the transition, the higher the level of anxiety that will be triggered.  To the point where if this responsibility shift feels overwhelming, well, guess what: the anxiety can become overwhelming, at least temporarily anyway.

(As a little aside, and true confession: when I made the transition decades ago from completing my Ph.D. program into my first career job as a staff psychologist, I—quite unexpectedly—got so overwhelmed about how much more responsibility I now had that I basically suffered a psychological breakdown.  Fortunately, a year of terrific therapy and a bit of medication got me back on my feet.  And while I certainly haven’t had a breakdown over major transitions since then, believe me, my transitional-anxiety gremlin can still pack a punch when it wants to!)

So, what determines just how anxious you’ll get before and during a major transition? I’ve given this subject a lot of thought over the years, including looking back on my own experience just described above.  

Here are the four variables that I believe play a huge role in determining whether transitional anxiety will be manageable versus overwhelming:

  1. Being a worrier by nature;
  2. Having relatively low self-confidence in the transitional area;
  3. Having relatively low self-worth overall;
  4. Having a limited or unreliable support system.  

Put these four together, and you get: the more you are a worrier by nature, have relatively low self-confidence in the transitional area, have relatively low self-worth overall, and have a limited or unreliable support system, then the more vulnerable you are to your Transitional Anxiety becoming overwhelming rather than manageable.  

Transitional Anxiety Syndrome (TAS) Is the term I use to describe transitional anxiety crossing the line from manageable to overwhelming.

So, what can you do if you develop TAS over a major life transition?  I offer you a little menu of options, at least some of which I used to help myself through my own TAS described above:

  1. Utilize a plentiful supply of mindful meditation and healthy physical outlets like exercise or gardening;
  2. Read up on anything informative and insightful related to your particular transition;
  3. Speak to anyone you know who has gone through a similar transition;
  4. Make sure to give yourself a little pat on the back each day for your courage and any little accomplishments of the day;
  5. Reach out for support, encouragement, and comfort from anyone in your life who you feel confident can provide you that; and last but not least
  6. Certainly keep yourself open, like I did, to options for professional help (therapy/counseling and possibly medication too).

Care to share any experiences YOU may have had with TAS? For more advice on coping with anxiety, check out some of my recent free videos on the subject or one of my books.

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