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.

Advertisements

Overcoming Emotional Trauma: A Menu For Healing The Hurt That Holds You Back

Growing up, I was emotionally hurt a lot.  Although I was an only child, my parents were so caught up in their own troubles and struggles that I managed to end up not fitting the stereotypes of an only child.  Meaning not only was I not spoiled and catered to, on the contrary: I was outright neglected.  Plus, my parents fought like cats and dogs (on a slightly lighter note, I would describe them as the understudies for the Costanzas on Seinfeld — except in real life, it was anything but funny to regularly witness, as I figure you can imagine).

All that arguing inevitably left me with plenty of core anxiety and insecurity—no surprise there, right? So, that was the essence of my emotional hurt growing up: a mix of deep feelings of neglect (accompanied by feelings of being unlovable), plus significant amounts of insecurity and anxiety; hurt that left me vulnerable to what I came to think of as my inner bully’s “double whammy” of potential self-sabotage.  Meaning: on the one hand, I am aware of my having an emotional core of hypersensitivity and over-reactivity to feeling betrayed and/or rejected. Yet on the other hand, I am equally aware I have a piece inside of me—a piece I learned from watching my parents argue so much—to pseudo-compensate for feeling hurt by all too quickly going to anger.

I tell you all of this for two reasons. First, so I can now follow it up by sharing with you how I know firsthand what the incredible benefits are that you can get from being in the right therapy with the right therapist (it took me quite a while, but I eventually found him, thankfully).  Am I no longer hypersensitive and over-reactive? Certainly these self-sabotaging tendencies are not gone entirely by any means, but I’m clear as daylight that I have come a long way in controlling them—especially, and most importantly, in the face of situational triggers.

Am I no longer prone to outbursts of anger?  I can’t say they never occur, but I can unequivocally and unhesitatingly say they occur a lot less, and manifest much more often than not in an increasingly controlled manner.

So, what’s my “secret” here, to use this overused term?  It’s called HEALING. No, my painful emotional wounds certainly are not 100% healed; some scars do for sure remain. But my confidence in my ability to comfort myself and be resilient in the face of feeling betrayed or rejected, as well as in my ability to keep my anger in check have never been stronger.  And to what do I attribute my healing?  Here’s my “menu” for success.

First, again, being with the right therapy/therapist. Then, add all of the following items: having the incredible good fortune to still love my work, learning self-comfort tools, turning to my robust network of great friends for support (while making sure to give it back to them as needed, too), performing acts of kindness and courage, allowing displays of  vulnerability at the right time to the right people, getting a good laugh a day (and a good cry when needed), and, last but not least, staying as active, healthy, and playful as I have the luxury and ability to be.

So: care to share where YOU are on the healing front?

Learn more about my journey to overcoming my Inner Bully and tackling Self-Sabotage by checking out my two published books, browsing my recent blog posts, and connecting with me on my Instagram and Facebook pages. Oh, and I encourage you to download a FREE chapter from my book: you can find the link to download that here!

inner bully

How To Shift Your Self-Judgement: A Technique To Overcome Your Inner Bully

I’d like to share with you something I’ve been practicing lately. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), as some of you may know, teaches us that we can practice challenging our negative thinking—including negative self-judgments—by pointing out to ourselves the irrationalities, over-generalizations, and incorrect assumptions in our minds that are creating and perpetuating the toxic negative thinking. Sometimes that approach works just fine. But in enough instances, I find it doesn’t work so well. For example, suppose you are mired in self-critical judgments like “I’m pretty stupid!” or “I’m fat and ugly!” or “I’m so undeserving of being loved!” These, what I call “inner bully,” harsh self-judgments can be pretty darn impenetrable to internal cognitive challenging, like what is practiced in CBT.


So, let me suggest an alternative strategy to getting control over negative self-judgments like these. The strategy involves switching the focus in your mind off of the distressing negative self-judgment you are caught up in, and onto what you are FEELING at that moment. I think it’s safe to say there are certain feelings that almost always create highly self-critical judgment—feelings like: sadness, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, hurt, or irritation.

The point is: what I’ve been preaching—and practicing—is mindfully shifting a negative self-judgment into one of those honest feelings. For example, suppose your inner bully has you saying to yourself something like “Jeez, you really are pretty stupid sometimes!” What you practice doing at those moments is switching immediately to telling yourself what you are really feeling, e.g., “I’m feeling sad right now” or “I’m feeling disappointed right now”—or anxious, or hurt, or pissed off, or jealous, or whatever. By doing this, you are replacing toxic negative self-judgment with a totally NON-judgmental, totally human feeling, one that exists in your emotional core because it belongs there at the moment.

Try it—and just see if like me, you feel like you are giving yourself a golden opportunity to bypass going cognitive with your negative self-judging; and instead, to cut right to non-judgmental honest feeling!

The Self-Worth Equation: Why The Little Things Make All The Difference

When I think of a way to describe the meaning of the term “emotional self-worth,” I go with the following equation: self-worth equals self-esteem plus self-respect. Let me take each of those two separately. On the self-esteem front , I look at self-esteem as having two parts: the “outer” (how you feel about how you look on the outside) and the “inner” (what you like about you personally on the inside).

As a little aside to that distinction, I truly wish that for true self-esteem, we could all make the “inner” part count a lot more than the “outer” part! But socialization and conditioning in our society being what they are, it makes it tough for that to happen, right? Oh well, and now to self-respect, which I’ll define here as anything you feel you’re accomplishing in your life, especially the “little things.”

Examples of “little things”— which as you’ll see in a moment really aren’t the least bit little at all—are things like pushing yourself and making the effort, exercising self-control over self-defeating habits, doing an act of kindness, taking care of your body and your health, reaching some goal you set, being creative and/or doing something really fun, and— last but certainly not least— engaging in act of courage.

These are the kinds of “little things” that we all could do ourselves a big favor by acknowledging even one of them that we may have done that day before we go to sleep at night! These days I’m thankfully feeling pretty good about myself on all three fronts (I assure you a lot of personal work has gone into making that happen)!

So next time you are judging yourself or worried about your value, remember the equation: Self-worth = Self-esteem + Self-respect!

Post-Traumatic Stress Injury: Why You Should Be Using PTSI To Describe Your Trauma (instead of PTSD)!

Most people are familiar with the psychological condition called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  As you may be aware from anything you have read or heard—or more unfortunately, from what you may personally suffer from—PTSD can be a quite debilitating psychological condition.  The main symptoms of PTSD typically include severe anxiety or panic attacks, flashbacks, depression, somatic symptoms (e.g., loss of appetite, sleep disturbance, or headaches), and loss of self-confidence and self-esteem.  Problems with addiction are also not uncommon when PTSD has taken hold. All of these symptoms ongoingly create and perpetuate marked distress in the person suffering from PTSD, and can continue to be present for many years or more, if not much of a lifetime.

When someone is formally diagnosed with PTSD, it is understood that by definition, the trauma triggering the PTSD involved a life or death event. War, a plane or car crash, or a natural disaster are all prime examples of life and death events that can of course traumatize someone involved in any of these events.  I should add that the formal diagnosis of PTSD can also include directly witnessing a life or death event, of the types just listed, without being a direct victim of it.

There is however another category of trauma that may not involve formally diagnosable events, but can trigger psychological trauma anyway. I’m referring here to psychological events which while not life and death, nevertheless in the extreme certainly can be traumatizing by themselves.  These especially include painful rejection, severe abuse, or a blind-siding major betrayal (e.g., an unsuspected infidelity). All of these psychologically devastating events have the potential to create most if not all of the same clinical symptoms listed above for traumas involving life and death events. Plus, need I add: unlike the first category of trauma which thankfully most people will never experience, chances are most people will go through their life experiencing at least one situation involving the second category of trauma.  

Now it’s time to tell you about Dr. Peter Levine’s work related to PTSD.  First we have his absolutely marvelous book, entitled In An Unspoken Voice: How The Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (2010). Then we have the incredibly valuable conference of his I attended several years ago on the subject of his book and related writings.  Dr. Levine is clearly a brilliant man. But better yet, he is also a deeply compassionate man—especially when it comes to people plagued by the debilitating symptoms of PTSD.

Let me tell you what I mainly mean by that statement of compassion—by quoting something from his book.  On page 34, Dr. Levine writes:


 “Recently, a young Iraq veteran took issue with calling his combat anguish PTSD.  Instead, he poignantly referred to his pain and suffering as PTSI. With the “I” designating “injury.”  What he wisely discerned is that trauma is an injury, and not a disorder like diabetes, which can be managed but not healed.  In contrast, post-traumatic stress INJURY is an emotional wound, amenable to healing attention and transformation.”


In An Unspoken Voice: How The Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness
Peter A. Levine
North Atlantic Books, 2010

To say I am indebted to Dr. Levine for introducing the term “injury” into the mix is putting it mildly.  That’s because virtually all of my current and past patients whom I have treated have found the term post-traumatic stress injury (PTSI) a term that strips the stigmatizing judgment out of the diagnosis of a disorder or mental illness.  Knowing that in this framework someone who has been traumatized will instead be seen as having a painful deep-seated injury can provide a badly needed sense of “normalcy” for that traumatized person. After all, who doesn’t sooner or later have to contend with a painful PHYSICAL injury, which can—as with a painful psychological injury—last a long time, take quite a while to treat, and quite possibly never fully go away?  No one in good conscience could possibly think of suffering from a painful physical injury as having anything but normalcy to it under the circumstances, right?

So to me the overall moral of the story is this.  If you are an individual who suffers from PTSD, strongly consider from now on calling it PTSI (and leave the PTSD thing to, say, professional diagnosing for insurance purposes).  Same recommendation I want to give to psychotherapists, counselors, coaches, and healers working with people diagnosed with PTSD: tell your patients/clients you will be using the term PTSI for their condition.  Then, as so sensitively encouraged by Dr. Levine, let’s help these suffering souls attempt to heal from their deep, complicated injury. And let’s make sure they get plenty of doses of healing-oriented kindness and compassion along the way—from people around them and of course from us—and not just in-office, diagnosis-based treatment options.

PTSI rather than PTSD—thank you Dr. Levine!


Want to learn more about this subject? Subscribe below to get an exclusive invitation to my upcoming webinar on Post-Traumatic Stress Injury.