Alyssa Wermers, LCSW

Play Therapy Services * Firestone, CO

Breathing through transitions

As you may have heard, I am relocating my office from Johnstown to Firestone in less than two weeks. I have been frantically running here and there trying to prepare everything so the move can go smoothly. I’ve also found myself worrying about things that I have no control over in the present moment. Now you might be wondering, why bothering writing this? Isn’t this blog supposed to link to stories from movies or books – you know, our cultural narrative? Yes, that’s been the theme. But this time I’m going to switch it up and relate to emotional dysregulation from my own narrative because I am, just like the people in the stories, a human too.

When I decided to move my office space I experienced a cornucopia of emotions. Excitement, relief, nervousness, pride, and fear, just to name a few. Now as the transition date looms closer I’m starting to notice the anxiety increasing. What if my stuff won’t fit, what if the waiting room is too small, what if I disturb my new office mates? The list goes on and on. What I am experiencing is an emotional response during a transition due to the fear of the UKNOWN.

The fear of the unknown is biologically wired in us. It’s actually very important for it to be there. Without this fear, our bodies and minds wouldn’t be ready to respond to surprises, challenges, or the unexpected. That means that to a point, we are supposed to worry about things. It’s what keeps our systems active and ready in case something happens (as things tend to do). And as with many other things in life, it depends upon a balance in order to be helpful. Too little and we are never prepared, too much and we are in anxiety overdrive. Anxiety overdrive is a common experience for many children, especially during transitions. Emotional regulation (the ability to experience a feeling and move through it) is something that is taught through life experiences, so it makes sense that children would need assistance in finding this balance when their system is activated during a transition.

A transition is defined as moving from one state to another. Some examples are changing a routine, switching from one activity to another, moving houses, progressing to a new life stage, or as in my case, moving an office. There is a potential for overwhelming anxiety in any of these situations. So how can you help your child develop skills to handle transitions?

First, name your experience out loud. “I am feeling a little bit anxious about moving.” Then take a deep breath to regulate your breathing. In order to increase your child’s ability to experience a feeling, it’s important to name the emotion.  Next, if you know what to expect, go ahead and say that out loud too. This helps decrease anxiety around the unknown, because it makes some of the information known. For example, “When I move on Monday, first I will get my new keys, and then I will pack my old office.”  Narrating your child’s experience out loud helps them make sense of what is happening and helps integrate the information in their brain in a healthy way.

Sometimes words only get us so far when trying to regulate through anxiety. The body carries anxious energy around with it, so offer some ways to release this. Sometimes deep pressure is helpful and you can do this by putting pressure on different parts of your child’s body – perhaps a bear hug, or just arm squeezes.  If you need to stay in place (maybe you’re in the car) go ahead and wiggle toes. If you have some more space, try going for a walk and naming items you see on your way.

Finally, remember that it’s always ok to feel scared or anxious, and make sure your child knows that. Try to stay away from blanket statements such as “It’s going to be fine.” This tells your child they shouldn’t feel nervous, which can only increase their fear, because now they might fear they are having a wrong feeling. Instead, say something like “It’s pretty scary to go to a new school. It’s ok to feel scared. I’m going to be with you when you go in for the first time and we’ll do it together.”

Transitions can be exciting, fun, and nerve wracking. They are also an opportunity to practice emotional regulation. Take a deep breath, acknowledge your feeling, and onward you will go!