Moving with the tide: strategies for managing transitions

It is a truism that change is a part of life. Yet none of us could have expected the sheer scope of transitions and losses that we experienced (and continue to experience) during the pandemic. It has challenged us to continuously adapt, while also limiting our resources for doing so. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and/or burned out, you’re not alone. To help bring comfort during times of change, try these strategies.

Drop anchor

In the face of unexpected transitions, it can feel like we are adrift in a sea of unknowns, with little to hold onto. Our first instinct is often to “do” something; to find a solution or action to make the world make sense and regain a sense of control. As a result, we often push emotions aside, where they can build and emerge in unintended ways (e.g., sleep disturbance, irritability, physical complaints). 

Instead of ignoring or suppressing emotions, make room for them. Protect time in each day to get out of “doing” and into “being.” This can occur simply by acknowledging, naming and validating our emotions. This allows us to find empathy for our experiences and shifts our emotions from something to fight against to something we can feel compassion for. Ask yourself: How do I feel right now? Where do I experience this emotion in my body? If my feeling had a shape or color, what would it be? How can I express, validate or comfort this emotion?

Unhook from your thoughts

The reality gap is the difference between how we want the world to be and how it is. The larger the gap, the more distress and negative thoughts we can experience. To help disentangle from these thoughts, take an observer stance. Try writing out thoughts and identifying themes or patterns. Label thoughts as “useful” or “not useful,” then use the “useful” thoughts to help you cope or assist with problem-solving. Imagine “not useful” thoughts being released in gentle ways (e.g., picture them drifting away as you take deep, soothing breaths).


Social support is one of the primary ways that we can cope with uncertainty and change, yet we often minimize its importance. Be intentional about connecting with safe others and asking for support. To overcome hesitancy about doing so, consider how you’ve felt when you learned that someone close to you had been struggling for some time. A typical first reaction is often, “I wish I had known, so I could have been there for you.” Turn that lens of compassion to yourself and trust that those in your life feel similarly.

Set your compass

Transitions can be a time to reflect on where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. Even changes that are painful can provide us with information about what’s important to us. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that we should ask ourselves to be grateful for events in our lives that are painful or traumatic, but we can use them to affirm who we are and what we value. Connect with your goals, purpose and motivation to guide you through change. You may ask yourself: How can I grow from this experience? What do my feelings about this change show that I care about? What do I want to stand for during this time? Who do I want to be?

If you or someone you love is struggling with mental illness, we can help. The family medicine providers at the Des Moines University Clinic are kind, compassionate, and will work with you to determine the best treatment options for you. To schedule an appointment, visit the DMU Clinic website, or call 515-271-1710.

Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Ciara Lewis, Psy.D., HSP

Ciara Lewis, Psy.D., HSP, is director of DMU’s Student Counseling Center.

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