By Betsy Brown, LMSW
As we enter a new season and our planet moves through a transition, it feels an appropriate time to reflect on the impact of change and ways to effectively navigate and move through our own transitions. On the one hand, transition is a naturally occurring phenomenon in life, one that we encounter on a daily basis and are quite familiar, even comfortable, with: the transition from sleep to wakefulness, the rising and setting of the sun, even the ticking of the clock takes us from one moment to another. There are many transitions we might not even notice (the ending and then the beginning of a Netflix series episode, that is, until we get the “are you still watching?” pop up on the screen). Some transitions, like changing seasons, moving to a new home, starting or ending a relationship, graduating, starting a new job, or having a child, are more demanding of our attention and force us out of our usual routine.
Transitions can be exciting, hopeful, promising, planned, and easeful. They can also be destabilizing, stressful, uncertain, uncomfortable, unexpected, and even unwanted. All transitions, “positive” and “negative,” can bring up feelings of sadness and anxiety. One might feel a loss of what was or fear about what is to come. While it is common and natural to cling to the past and worry about the future, following those instincts often increases depression and anxiety and obstructs our ability to navigate change effectively.
Mindfulness is an effective way to tolerate the discomfort that change brings by getting the mind out of the past and the future and into the present moment. It not only has the effect of calming the nervous system and as such is an effective tool in moments of emotional distress and dysregulation that transition can bring about, but it also helps us become more comfortable with the ebbs and flows of life, to experience more presence and gratitude in moments of joyful transition, and to remember “this too shall pass” as we navigate through painful or difficult times.
A simple, but effective, way to practice mindfulness is through the breath. There are many ways to practice mindful breathing, but one technique that is particularly helpful for calming the mind and body is called “4-7-8” breathing. You simply inhale through your nose for four counts, hold your breath for seven counts, and exhale through your mouth for eight counts. As you breathe, keep your focus on the breath. You might notice your mind wandering, that’s okay, just gently redirect your attention back to the inhalation and exhalations. Try to move through at least three rounds of breath. And, remember to give yourself grace through the process: mindfulness is a practice because it takes PRACTICE. Expect that it will take several “at bats” before it comes with ease and feels natural.