Life Transitions – planned and Unplanned

What do job change, loss of a loved one, moving, losing valuables in a flood, retirement, pregnancy, and graduating high school all have in common? Drum roll, please…they are all LIFE TRANSITIONS! Sounds like a fancy name given to something that is not fancy at all? You’re correct! “Life transitions” is a blanket term “we therapy people” give to the personal experience of coming to terms with any change throughout life that causes us to re-invent ourselves in some way. We go through change and transition all the time; some are easy, and some are not. A life transition can be expected, like turning 30, or unexpected, like losing your home in a fire.

Often, people experiencing changes and going through transition become frustrated with themselves.  When I’m working with someone and hear them say things like they should be “moving on by now,” or feel like they’ve “lost themselves,” my first inclination is, they may be stuck in the “neutral zone.” William Bridges, an early expert on life transitions, created the “transition model,” a three-phase model of life transitions. This model includes endings, neutral zone, and new beginnings. Getting “stuck” in one of these phases is not uncommon or unusual, yet it most often leaves us feeling broken, crazy, or just like something is “wrong” with us. On the contrary, something is right with you. Your body is reacting the way we were meant to react, which can, quite frankly, feel awful at times.

William Bridges once said, “Every beginning starts with an ending.” Ending and changing are like growing pains. They can hurt- ask a butterfly! Even so, they do not have to be times of “crisis.”

Most Commonly Searched Life Transitions:

The list of life transitions is extensive; some are more common or widely known than others. To further illustrate this broad stroke of “life transitions,” I thought it might be fun to look at the most commonly searched-for “life transitions” online!

30’s Crisis Life Transition:

After the invigorating whirlwind of our 20s, our 30s often become a time to look back and reflect. Areas of our 20s that were excitingly unpredictable, like college, entering the workforce, and dating, started to level out or morph in composition. For many, accepting this major shift and/or figuring out who we are through these changes can be a struggle. Our 20s focus on social life may start taking a back seat as priorities like going back for an advanced degree, “nesting,” and exchanging our backpacking lifestyle for a first or forever home start to take precedence. Such a change in priorities can sometimes leave us feeling like we need to be “grown-up” now. The feeling of becoming a textbook “grown-up” can leave a pit of nostalgia, a heavyweight, in our stomachs. Talk about growing pains!

Job Loss Life transition:

Many of us have considered the possibility of job loss. Still, the immediate need to adjust can be hard to manage when it goes from a metaphorical possibility to a bleak reality. Job loss can be a life-altering strain if you are on your own, a single parent, or part of a partnership or marriage.  Whether you’re looking at returning to school, networking for job opportunities, or contacting a job coach, the work necessary after job loss can feel daunting.

Mid-life crisis life transition:

And now we get to the Mid-life crisis! An idea that has essentially taken on a life of its own within Hollywood and society at large. In Reality, “mid-life” can be anywhere between the ages of 40-60, affect any gender, and can result in much more than buying a flashy car and inappropriately young clothing. As in your 30’s crisis transition, this is also a time to look back. Some of the difficulties people face in mid-life crisis might include the reality of one’s own mortality, changing appearance, and the feeling of urgency around the need to change.  Many people experience more than one mid-life crisis.  For example, it is common for successful business people to experience one because they have become so successful and people treat them differently when they hit forty and another at 55 when they tire of “playing the game”

Retirement Life Transition:

Going from 30-60 hours/week of hard work to having an additional 30-60 hours of free time sounds fantastic! Sign me up!  Many of us look at “retirement” as the ultimate goal. We fantasize about never having to work again, or about all the things we’ll finally do. Seldom do we think of what a major change retirement is. Too often people finally make it to their goal, “retirement,” and find themselves depressed 3 months in. Why? Chalk that up to life transitions.

Health Issue Life Transition:

Health changes can pose more than adding a new diagnosis to your medical history. A health transition can reach deep into the most personal parts of ourselves, who we are, our physical abilities, our emotional health, our daily routine, what we eat or do, and our overall well-being. The word “difficult” falls grossly short in describing the waves of emotion a new diagnosis can elicit.

The Journey into Parenthood

Among the many life transitions we experience, stepping into the world of parenthood is a genuinely transformative and emotionally charged. Whether planned or unexpected, the arrival of a little one shifts our priorities, relationships, and self-identity. As new parents, we face sleepless nights, constant worry, and overwhelming love for our child while striving to create a nurturing environment. This profound transition pushes us to reevaluate our careers, social lives, and self-care routines, ultimately revealing our strength, resilience, and capacity to grow and evolve as we embrace our new roles.

What can you do to manage life transitions?

I’ll say it again, the list of life transitions is extensive. They can be tricky, easy, planned, or unplanned. They can cause stress and shake the foundation we stand on. They can also be times of growth and healing. If you are struggling, there is help.

Life transitions can be easy or tough, but when they are tough, I hope it’s easier to see why! The amount of change and adjustment that happens or needs to happen is immense. If anything else is happening in your life while you’re going through a transition (as usual), this can make navigating the transition much less “easy.”

Suppose you feel you or someone you know may need help to traverse a life transition, are anticipating a tough transition, or have already gone through a transition and are still struggling. In that case, counseling is a successful intervention and can help soften the journey.  One of my passions is working with individuals going through life transitions –if you want to see a short video about how I work with clients – here is my detailed information page.

If you need help and support, know we are here to do just that. Cristina Panaccione and Associates Counseling has locations in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and Robinson Township. We also offer Virtual Therapy Sessions. We are currently accepting a limited number of new patients. Check out our services pages to learn how we can help you.

* The Food and Drug Administration has not evaluated this information. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Please contact a medical professional for advice.

Image Credit – Adobe Stock –

Editor’s Note: This blog was initially published in 2017, and we’ve since updated it to provide fresh perspectives and insights. We want to highlight the exceptional work of our therapists, who specialize in helping clients navigate life transitions. Our dedicated professionals, including Olivia Lenora, Michael Breitenbach, Stephanie Stevens, and Shelby O’Brien, offer compassionate guidance and support, empowering clients to face the challenges and embrace the opportunities that come with change.


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