Life Stages: Making healthy life transitions

Life Stages: Making healthy life transitions

By Derek Hagey, Contributor | Posted - Nov. 4, 2011 at 7:33 p.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Life is a long road with many twists and turns. Often we may feel we are winding along this road with no knowledge of the next turn until it is upon us. Once we hit another one of those turns we are frantically turning the wheel, braking, and shifting gears. Frankly, we are just trying to stay on the road.

Life is not always predictable. We do not always choose our circumstances, but we can choose our reaction to them. Here is some expert advice on how to not only handle life's twists and turns, but how to plan for the unexpected and make healthy life transitions.

Understanding transitions


Predictable life transitions are those that we go through at specific times in our lives. We tend to know they are coming and may have some anxiety leading up to them. Examples include:- Graduating from high school

  • Going to college
  • The first day of a new job
  • Marriage
  • Birth of a child
  • Sending a child to school for the first time
  • Launching children into the world
  • Retirement
When making a predictable transition we should prepare ourselves for the potential changes that take place.

Unpredictable life transitions often happen without any warning and do not allow us to prepare for them. Examples include:

  • Illness
  • Death in the family
  • Loss of employment
  • Divorce
  • Accidents When we have to deal with an unpredictable life transition, we often react without believing we have a choice in the matter because the event happens suddenly.Making healthy transitions

When transitions come along, a main goal should be keeping that transition from becoming a crisis. When managing a transition — whether predictable or unpredictable — you will do well to develop a plan for the future.

Some questions about transitions that are helpful to think through include:
  • What are some of the more predictable ones?
  • What are examples of unpredictable ones?
  • How can I make positive transitions?
  • Is there hope for me if I've made some poor transitions?

Reuben Hill developed a model for understanding stress in the late 1940s, and his Fa mily Stress Model continues to aid in understanding how stressors become crises. The plan for the future as expressed in Hill's Family Stress Model involves considering two things:

  1. Your resources, those protective factors that buffer the stressor's impact.
  2. Your perceptions, those factors that are internal to the individuals.

Resources include:

  • Having regular family meetings, which can include meals as well as weekly meetings where interaction is encouraged.
  • Utilizing community resources, which can include church and other social programs like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as well as friends and family members.
  • Asking for help and guidance from trained professionals who understand the needs of individuals and families in transition.

Perceptions include:

  • Maintaining a hope for the future.
  • Having a positive outlook.
  • Remembering that you have weathered other stressors and you can weather this one too.
  • Increasing family unity toward a common goal

If you can increase your resource use and increase the positive perceptions about a transition, you are less likely to become overwhelmed and be in crisis mode.

Dealing with crisis mode

If you are already in crisis mode, the most important thing you should do to decrease the intensity of the crisis feelings is to develop a plan. Take a moment to ease your mind by doing something that you find relaxing or calming.


Calming activities vary by person, but they are often called coping skills. Some examples include meditation, physical exercise, rel axed breathing exercises, using humor to lighten the mood and socializing with others who are more positive. Once you are in a calmer place, you can then focus on developing a plan to increase resource use and decrease negative perceptions.


Think of the potential resources you have at your disposal (see list above) and write out the resources you are currently using, and then develop an extensive list of those resources you would like to increase.

For instance, you may be having regular family meetings but not be using other social outlets for support, such as extended family or friends that are encouraging and positive. You can write out which friends or extended family members are able to provide either emotional support or resources they have at their disposal (such as legal advice if there is a family member or friend that is a lawyer).

After developing an extensive list, you can rank order the helpfulness and which ones will be most responsive. Then seek those resources, and you may find the intensity of the situation may subside as you adjust to it.

If you need special support

If you have a hard time just calming your mind or if family members are not in agreement, you may need to seek the help of a therapist, counselor or mediator. You will want to make sure you select a therapist that is licensed and who is best for you and your family. For advice on selecting a therapist, read "Choosing the best therapist for you."

Using these tools, you'll be better prepared to travel the road of life and weather change and transistions more effectively.

Derek Willis Hagey is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and relationship expert. He maintains a therapy practice at Stages Family Therapy (Cottonwood Heights) and counsels individuals, couples, and families through difficult life transitions.

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