Transitions: Using breath, movement and connection to navigate new waters and find your footing

by Cortney Seltman, Forward Wellness Intern

Happy Back-to-School season!

In my house, we’ve got three kids heading to three different new schools, and I’m starting the fourth and final year of my master’s degree and adding a new internship site. Buckle up, kids, away we go.

Even if you or someone in your family is not heading to school this fall, you may be facing a transition of another kind.  Or you may remember the feeling of starting something new and the excitement and/or disorientation that may accompany that change. Any change, no matter how big or small or desired or not, can be unsettling and change your mood or increase stress.  Every step into new territory is also a step out of where you just stood, and there may be loss, sadness, and grief along with a number of other emotions that arise during these times.

When facing a life change, it is understandable and normal to feel overwhelmed. Your stress response system (the sympathetic nervous system) can get activated easily and often, pushing you (or someone you’re in relationship with) into a stress response we sometimes call fight (aggression, resistance or lashing out), flight (running away, neglecting duties, hiding out), or freeze (becoming immobilized or stuck). Each response demands a lot of your physical and emotional energy to maintain.

If you are in the perinatal period, transitions occur constantly, in the span of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and the constant changes through the early years of pre-conception, pregnancy, birth, the postpartum period and parenting young children can be extremely challenging waves to ride and navigate.   Those moving through adolescence and other normal developmental phases (empty nesters, retirees) as well as those facing loss and grief also face the challenge of encountering a lot of the new and unfamiliar in a short period of time.

Breathe (mindfully)

To ground yourself through transitions and reduce your stress, you can use a few simple practices to soothe and balance your nervous system.  The practice of mindfulness or simply noticing and paying attention to your own breath and being curious without judgement or expectation brings you into a relationship with your breath’s rhythm.  This moves you out of your stress response (fight/flight/freeze) and into a calming relaxation response (the parasympathetic nervous system or state of “rest and digest”), lowering your heart and respiratory rate, blood pressure, and reducing muscle tension.  This reduces stress.  Practicing mindfulness, meditation, or breath awareness all helps you access your own resources and stamina to navigate whatever you are facing and feeling.   If you’re caring for a little one, you can try this at feedings while you hold your baby and notice how using the breath to calm yourself often will calm your baby too.

Tip: Headspace and Insight Timer are two apps that have guided meditations and meditation timers you can use on your own at home, or you can find a local class or teacher to help guide and support you.

Move and rest

Simple, gentle movement or restorative yoga can also be a calming and grounding practice.  Lying in an L-shape with your back on the floor and with the backs of your legs resting on the wall (soles of the feet parallel with the ceiling) for 5 minutes before bed or in the middle of the day can be deeply restorative and calming, helping to reset and soothe your nervous system.  Gentle neck rolls, dancing, yoga, massage or a walk in nature can all make a big difference in how you feel.  If you tend to get stuck when facing stress, then keep your body moving!  Some find more intensive exercise helpful while others feel better after slow and easy movement. If you tend to get jittery or unfocused, experiment with your balance of movement and deep rest.

Tip:  Start your day and end your day with 5 minutes of gentle movement or deep restful stillness, and/or get outside for a walk at any time of day.  Walks and bathtubs are magic for adults and children alike.

Connect to your community

Another healthy and productive way you can respond to stress and transition is to connect with others and invest time and energy in relationships.  Call a friend or family member that you enjoy being with, set up a date, ask for help, or offer support to someone else with what they’re facing.  Better yet, invite a friend to explore meditation or take a walk, or share experiences with each other as you each explore these practices on your own.

Tip: None of us practice all these things all the time.  It is unrealistic and undesirable to eliminate all stress or strong emotions during transitions-  they have a productive purpose!  Connecting with honest, loving friends can remind you that you do not need to face challenges alone and offer humor, connection, and care.

Parenting Through Transition

As a parent or caregiver, you can support yourself and your children through big transitions by first attending to your own wellness using the practices above or anything else that brings you joy.  You can’t pour tea from an empty cup so fill yourself up first!  Start with the basics- nutrition, hydration, and sleep.  If you start from a place of ease, it is easier to stay calm and hold space for your child’s stress responses.  Expect their stress responses, and welcome them when they arrive as normal and anticipated. You can dance, sing, laugh and play with children to help them discharge big emotions and tension they may be holding or have had to hold in all day in a new environment.  You can create more space and time in your days for snuggles, hugs, nursing, reading together, massage or other physical touch and nurturing that will lower their stress response (and probably yours too!).

Tip: A great read about parenting in general with a section on child-led special time that can help kids self-regulate and connect with you in times of change, check out:   Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges  by Patty Wipfler  and Tosha Schore


Utilize therapy or other healing professionals

If you need more support to navigate whatever transitions you are moving through, reach out to us at Forward Wellness or to a therapist near you!  Many people utilize individual or group therapy during particular phases of their lives; having a supportive guide can be invaluable as you navigate whatever new challenges and opportunities you are facing.

I’ll leave you with two quotes to ponder about transition and change credited to Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 b.c.:

“There is nothing permanent except change.”

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Be well and good luck on the adventures you face!

Dancing along side you,

Speak Your Mind


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