Katelyn Schaefer, MSW, LCSW

As with so many Americans, Covid-19 completely changed Matthew S.’s life. Matt was a hard-working 30-something who worked in sales until April 2020, when he lost his job due to Covid-19. He took this unexpected loss incredibly hard. After having been unable to finish college and struggling to find a job, Matt had felt lucky to land that sales position and had been there four years before Covid hit. He had just saved enough money to put a down-payment on a home. In the spring of 2020, he now had a mortgage, a wife, and a baby on the way, with no income and, in his mind, no true career path to fall back on. Matt faced an unexpected, difficult life transition that challenged him to rely on his supports, reconsider his priorities, and re-imagine his future.

As one of the most challenging years in our collective history comes to an end and a new year begins, many people are looking back on the ways the year 2020 shaped them. For a lot of us, including Matt in the example above, this means reflecting on the circumstances that forced us to grow in unexpected ways. Those circumstances could have been job loss, challenges in relationships, caring for a sick or dying loved one, figuring out new routines within the home, remote education for our kids, or any number of other truly difficult experiences. 2020 has forced so many people to redefine who they are or who they may need to be in the coming months and years.

There are times in every person’s life where one is faced with transitioning into a new phase of their journey. For some, these are planned or natural transitions such as school, marriage, children, career advancements, etc. However, there are also many times when we are forced to face unforeseen, unplanned, and often difficult, life changes. These trying times are typically the moments that challenge us both physically and mentally, requiring us to grow and redefine ourselves in previously unimagined ways.

While natural life transitions are typically manageable, these unexpected changes can cause tremendous amounts of stress, anxiety, and fear. What do we do when we are faced with having to make life decisions we may not feel we have adequate answers to? How do we cope with the stresses these transitions bring? How do we not lose ourselves as we grow in these experiences? Simply put, how do we move forward?

There may not always be an easy answer to these questions, but the concepts below are a good place to start.

• Identify a Support System – During difficult times, it is essential to know who we can count on to support physical and emotional needs as they arise. Connect with those supports often and directly communicate the desire to be there for one another through these transitions.

• Become Informed – Many times during life changes, we will be asked to face the unfamiliar. It is important to become informed and well-educated on options and facts regarding the situation at hand.

• Ask for Help – Whether it be a trusted friend or family member within your identified support system or a trained professional, recognize the importance of asking for help. Know that you are not alone on this journey and there is always someone who can walk with you if you are willing to let them. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness; it is always a sign of strength.

• Make Time for Yourself – If you have been placed in a position where you are now taking on a new role in life, it is so important to keep the things that make, you in your daily routine. Make time for yourself and the things that bring you joy. In high-stress times, we should be purposeful in prioritizing our needs as individuals. When redefining ourselves we must always find ways to keep who we are at our core alive and well.

• Allow Yourself Space to Grow – Full transitions don’t often happen overnight. There is a process of learning, changing, and growing. Be kind to yourself during this process. Allow yourself time to shift gears and figure things out. If you must make a difficult decision quickly, remember that many changes can be temporary if needed. Do the best you can and give yourself intentional grace during these times.

• Know It’s Okay to Not Feel Okay Sometimes – As a society, it often seems frowned upon to be open and honest that one is struggling. There may not be a better time to break that stigma. A large number of people are really struggling right now, in one capacity or another. Have empathy for others and yourself.

• Get Help for Depression or Anxiety – While it’s normal and okay to feel down sometimes, it is also important to recognize if you are having increased feelings of “not being okay” or if you have been experiencing negative or harmful thoughts for extended periods of time. Take this as a sign and opportunity to reach out for help from your doctor or mental health professional.

• Seek Hope – When we are thrown into the unknown, there is so much uncertainty. Many times this can become incredibly overwhelming and cause us to lack hope for the future. In these moments it’s important to seek hope. Find things that you can look forward to. Create goals for your future, things you want to do or accomplish. Intently look for positives throughout your day. It may be as simple as acknowledging the sun is shining, but over time finding these small glimpses of hope and joy will wire your brain to more optimistic ways of thinking.

• Consider “Kintsugi” as a Metaphor for Transition- Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with melted gold. The concept is built on the idea that, in embracing flaws and imperfections, we can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art.

While the year 2020 was, for many, a year of uncertainty, fear, grief, and change, we must remember that it was also a year where we gained strength and resilience. It has set us up to be much more equipped to work through any challenging transitions we may face in years to come. We may at times still feel broken, but, just like the Japanese art of Kintsugi, we are allowed to use our brokenness to create something new that has meaning.
Together we can choose to see the beauty in the broken. We can lean on one another to be the golden glue when we feel disconnected. Dare we suggest that this could even be the silver lining in redefining ourselves during difficult life transitions?

This idea that we are asked to keep all the pieces of ourselves and shift them into something new is a unique request. It is often a difficult task, but the opportunity to mold ourselves into someone that has grown in strength and resilience is a very powerful thing. With the new year comes renewed understanding that we are still beautifully crafted individuals. We can find peace in knowing that we are capable of facing the curveballs life will throw our way and we can find hope in believing we are worthy, more than ever, of the promises our future holds.

Katelyn Schaefer, MSW, LCSW provides therapy services to school-aged children and adolescents, adults, and seniors, addressing anxiety, depression, ADHD, Autism, and other emotional and behavioral concerns and life transition issues. Katelyn acknowledges that for many people, the idea of therapy may be met with hesitation or fear – she provides a safe space built on trust, compassion, and respect to meet their therapeutic goals.

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