How To Handle The Holidays When You’re In A Transitional Phase Of Life

Sometimes it feels like we are all alone during transitions — whether it’s looking for a new job, being newly single, moving apartments, or smaller transitions in your life, relationships, and beyond, navigating the in-between moments can be downright stressful. After shutting down my ethical fashion business earlier this year, I found myself in the midst of one of my biggest life transitions: figuring out the next business I want to grow to make an impact.

When you’re in transition, it’s perhaps the time when people are most curious about where you’re at. With good intentions, family members and friends reach out to find out what you are working on and how you are feeling. Sometimes those questions are supportive, or even allow you to talk things out with someone else. Other times, they are completely overwhelming, reminding you of the uncertainty you feel. The holiday season, filled with parties full of family members and friends, only adds to the stress. Add social media into the mix and it can be downright paralyzing. I realized this topic was so complex, and so uncomfortable, that I pushed myself even deeper into it, starting a podcast on the very topic, Medium Well, so I can grow and learn from others through my own transition.

During one of the biggest uncertain moments of my life — when I was trying to decide if I would return to college at Tulane University as a freshman after Katrina — I approached navigating the topic at my family’s Thanksgiving gathering by writing and distributing a sheet of paper with FAQs to my family members so I didn’t have to talk about it. (Q: “Are you going back to Tulane?” A: “I have no idea.” It was hilarious.). It was the way I coped in the moment. But if you don’t feel like distributing handouts this holiday season, here are a few tips to keep you grounded and aligned moving forward.

Focus on what you do know

During periods of uncertainty, the “unknowns” are often front of mind. You may dwell on how you don’t know where you will live in a month, where your next paycheck is coming from, or if your boss will give you the promotion you asked for. Instead of dwelling on those questions, shift your mindset to what you do know: your skills, your support system, and the fact that you have likely navigated a similar transition before successfully. Rest easy in the skills and experience you have that will help propel you forward. When chatting with others, determine one thing you recently accomplished that you are really proud of that you can use as a talking point when people ask you what you are up to.

Take your time

It’s easy to want to get the period of uncertainty over with ASAP — trust me, I know the feeling! But sometimes rushing into something new is not the best solution. Allow yourself some time. If people are asking you about the time you’re taking, consider telling them you’re “on a sabbatical,” or “enjoying the opportunity to think about things.” As a New Yorker, I often need to remind myself that being in transition is not the same as being a failure or not working hard enough. Rather, I focus on the fact that I am taking steps to build a future that serves both me and others. That takes time and effort, and shouldn’t be rushed into.

Journal and meditate

I find journaling an immensely helpful way to process challenges (and really, anything!) I love morning pages where I just do a brain dump every day upon waking up. It helps me articulate my feelings, get out of my own head, and self-soothe. I find that many of the things I am worrying about resolve themselves when I write them out! If you are looking for some helpful journaling prompts, “Let It Out” by Katie Dalebout is a very helpful companion. I also find meditation to be helpful during these times — it allows me to calm my feelings, focus on my breath, and bring myself into the present. Both these tools are free and available to do whenever, wherever, so don’t hesitate to hide in the bathroom during your family Christmas party and take a five-minute meditation break or journal some ideas on your phone when Aunt Sally won’t stop drilling you with questions. If journaling and meditation aren’t for you, perhaps yoga, going for a walk, or something else will help you clear your head.

Choose something to accomplish that’s outside of your transition

If you are undergoing a job search, maybe consider also training for a 5k, or something else you find motivating and exciting. I find it important to take the pressure off the thing I am stressing about the most and focus on something I know I can achieve or accomplish, something that I feel in control of and can help boost my self-esteem. Even if I don’t know what I want to do with my career, I do know that I can run a mile every day, and check that off my to-do list. It also provides an opportunity to share something impressive you are working on outside of the transition question, providing a new topic to focus on during the family holiday party.

What are your favorite tips, tools, and resources to navigate transition? Share them in the comments so I can learn from your experience!