Managing Transitions Effectively

Transitions are inherently stressful, whether they are transitions for the better or the worse. A first step in managing transitions effectively is to acknowledge and accept their inherently stressful nature. Acceptance does not mean approval, a distinction Marsha Linehan, the author of DBT, has made clear. Acceptance just means recognizing reality as it currently is; it does not mean approving of reality as it currently is. Moreover, acceptance of reality is an important step towards change because we can only change something that we acknowledge exists.

Omitting this first step can also open the door to counter-productive self-judgments. For example, take the hypothetical case of a woman Sonya who gave birth to her first child two days ago. Child birth entails many powerful feelings not all of them positive. If however Sonya does not accept the inherently stressful nature of parenting an infant and does not accept that she may have positive and negative feelings about motherhood, she may be more vulnerable to negative self-judgments such as “I should be so happy now,” “what is wrong with me?” “Maybe I don’t love my baby enough,” or “I must be a bad mother.”

Learning about and practicing mindfulness can also help people manage transitions more effectively. Mindfulness is increasingly recognized as a practice with broad applications to work, personal life, and stressful situations. Mindfulness essentially entails learning to control one’s attention. Day dreaming, “checking out,” or temporary dissociations are the opposite of mindfulness. Someone who is practicing mindfulness is better able to focus his or her attention on the current challenges of a transition. A person who is practicing mindfulness is also better able to recognize that worries may be nothing more than passing and distressing thoughts and is then better able to redirect his or her attention towards more productive thoughts.

Lastly, attending to self-care is another important way of managing transitions effectively. The “STRONG” skill is a DBT acronym and mnemonic for self-care skills from Marsha Linehan’s DBT manual. S stands for Sleeps as much as you need – not too much, not too little; T stands for Take medications as prescribed (and take care of physical health); R stands for Resist using alcohol and illicit drugs; O stands for Once a day, do somethings that makes you feel competent or masterful; N stands for Nutrition – eat a balanced diet; and G stands for Get exercise, e.g. 3 days a week for 30 minutes. Attending to these basic self-care skills can help reduce vulnerabilities to stress and negative emotions.