4:30 am. I stare at the clock in disbelief.
If I don’t rise soon I will miss my swimming session.
I could skip the swim today and go to yoga instead. Maybe I could ride my bike to yoga to get a little extra training in. It’s a recovery swim anyway so it would almost equal out.
Or I could sleep a little longer and do a strength training session at home. I just heard a podcast that said strength training is the key to living longer, building muscle, and getting stronger. Yeah, maybe that’s what I should do.
4:58 am. Shit. What’s wrong with you? Just get up!
All I really want to do is hide under the covers and avoid the day.
These are the bargains I attempt to negotiate with myself when the anxiety of the day is conspiring to keep me in bed. The pit in my stomach gives way to a flood of butterflies and this is the sign that reminds me I am in a “transition time”.
Transition time is any period when the routine of life is uprooted and unstable. Being a freelance film and television editor, this happens anytime I start or end a new project. For parents and students, it can be when a new school year begins and summer ends, or vice versa. For athletes, it can be after a big race takes place and the training season is over. It can be when you move to a new city or new house, or anytime one routine ends and another begins. Often the changing of the seasons can bring enough disruption to the daily routine that it induces anxiety, whether conscious or unconscious. Currently, I am dealing with a job ending and a training season ending with no upcoming race in sight. Add in the change of seasons and I’m experiencing the triple crown of transition time anxiety.
What has been most helpful to me during these times is to practice patience with myself. Often during times of overwhelm and disorder, even the things I am confident doing can feel awkward or difficult. It can become easy to think I’ve lost the ability to cope at all.
If I can take pause in these moments to remind myself that this feeling is temporary, it is easier to move through the transition without being shut down by it. Having patience with myself, gives me the space to learn how to adapt and grow stronger through the transition.
Before practicing patience I have to actually recognize that I am in a transition period. Even though I’ve been a freelance editor for ten years now, I still don’t always immediately recognize the anxiety creeping up. In fact, sometimes I am even harder on myself during these times. Often after finishing a project and finally getting some free time to do all those things I longed to do while I was working, I find myself crippled by the unstructured day ahead of me. I then beat myself up for wasting the day away and squandering my abundance of time that I had been longing for.
Part of practicing patience means slowing down long enough to acknowledge the anxiety and then building in time to adjust. It does no good to rush through the day ignoring the anxiety as it will only rear it’s head in a bigger way.
I like to use the analogies of yoga and triathlon here. In yoga, teachers often instruct students to pay attention to their alignment especially when moving in and out of poses. Yoga instructor Katie Ratchuk writes how her yoga teacher describes yoga transitions,
[They are] the seams that connect the pieces. The pieces of our practice. The pieces of our life.
In other words, the transitions are part of life too and not something to avoid or rush through. They are the connective tissue in our journey. We need that connective tissue to be strong, flexible, and durable.
In triathlon, the goal is to get in and out of transition as fast as possible, but not to rush through as you’re liable to forget something or risk injury. In life, the goal is the same. We want to adjust quickly to a new routine while paying careful attention to the changes that are happening.
I like to think of the Navy SEALS slogan “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” to remind myself that patience is key in these times. I break it down like this:
- SLOW: Recognize the shift in routine is bringing about anxiety.
- SMOOTH: Allow flexibility to learn new coping methods and understand that this time is for learning and growing.
- FAST: Integrate what you have learned and apply it to each new transition period you enter.
So what does this look like in practice?
This might mean skipping swim practice in favor of yoga class as mentioned above. Or instead of immediately diving into household chores or job hunting, I allow myself to go see a movie or veg out in front of the television for a couple of hours if that settles my anxiety. I might actually schedule time during the day to look at Facebook or surf the internet rather than beating myself up for wasting half the day on it. Giving myself permission makes it acceptable behavior thereby avoiding the downward spiral of self deprecation.
Then once I have allowed for some scheduled distractions, I feel more relaxed and prepared to tackle some other less enjoyable activities on my to do list.
Keep a Routine…sort of
A big factor in the anxiety experienced during transitions is resistance. We are resisting the change that is occurring. We don’t want to upset our comfortable routines. This manifests emotionally in feeling cranky, overwhelmed, fatigued, irritable, and undone. It can also manifest in our bodies by feeling tight and constricted in our muscles and joints.
If we can keep up our good habits during this time, we can counteract some of these negative effects. Over the years, I have learned that when a project ends and I don’t have an office to go to anymore, that does not mean I should stop getting up at the same time every day and doing my usual morning routine.
My daily meditation practice and exercise routine is part of what keeps me happy, healthy and motivated each day. If I disrupt that too much, it becomes a slippery slope for all my good habits to fall by the wayside. So while I am flexible enough to allow swimming to turn into yoga, I am careful not to allow the exercise routine to drop off completely.
The same goes for healthy eating habits and getting enough sleep each night. These are the habits that keep me productive. They also keep some semblance of routine in the day so I don’t feel a loss of identity from the transition period.
While transition times can be exciting because you have time to do other things, it can be scary because those new things might be out of your comfort zone. I have been wanting to write more and pursue a side hustle. But these things are new to me so I don’t have the confidence or knowledge to know where to begin. Just having the time to work on it is not always enough. Here’s a few steps I have found useful in building confidence during transition periods:
- Maintain a routine of good habits to carry through transition times.
- Find small, manageable, tasks towards new goals to build confidence.
- Recognize and reward success in these tasks to encourage consistency.
Plan Ahead When Possible
We don’t always know when a transition period is coming. We may lose a job unexpectedly or suffer an injury that curtails race plans, but more often than not, we know when a change is coming. If you’re a freelance worker like me, you typically know how long a project will last and when you need to start looking for the next gig. If you’re a student or parent, you know when school is starting and ending. If you’re an athlete, you know when your race is and when the season is ending or beginning.
Planning ahead for the transition will make it more efficient and reduce anxiety around the time period. If you can line up your next gig before the current one ends, that is a huge stress relief. If you make summer plans to fill the vacant school time, this will ease the anxiety around that void. If you set up your next race or plan your recovery time with specific activities, this will calm the energy usually devoted to training.
This planning will reduce the time lost to feeling depressed or helpless. If you have plans in place, you are more likely to take action and follow through with them. Building in productive activities will boost your confidence leaving you less likely to fall prey to the insecure feelings that can accompany change.
The Unpredictability of Life
Life has a way of throwing us curve balls when we are at our most vulnerable. Change is never convenient. We can’t avoid it or run away from it. The best we can do is control how we react to it.
Be patient. Remember: slow is smooth, smooth is fast.
Keep your good habits routine. This is your anchor to your confidence.
Plan ahead whenever possible. It will reduce your anxiety before and during the transition.
Finally, I like to remember this quote from William Bridges when I’m struggling in transition:
It is when we are in transition that we are most completely alive.
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