Transition Anxiety

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

We’re all familiar with transitions, and this is because we can’t avoid them. Simply growing up is a series of significant transitions as we move from childhood, through our teens, and into adulthood. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Moving to a new area, changing jobs, marriage or divorce, becoming a parent and getting a promotion are all examples of fairly significant transitions that can get the pulse racing. Change can be positive, but let’s not forget that for some people, change represents fear and it comes at quite a cost.

Highly sensitive people

Are you a highly sensitive person? If you’re uncertain as to what this implies, you’re not alone. The notion of highly sensitive people (HSP) isn’t new, but is not widely known. Perhaps you’ve been dismissed as being neurotic, or thin-skinned, which isn’t helpful. But take comfort in the fact that there may be many others like you. Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. is a pioneer in the area. Dr. Aron claims that around 20 percent of us are born with HSP. You may find her HSP self-test and website resources useful.

For highly sensitive people, some of the transitions previously mentioned represent big psychological challenges. Those who consider themselves HSP appear to share some common traits in that they struggle with noisy environments, become overwhelmed and retreat into themselves when under pressure, and have a profound dislike of situations (news events or movies) that show others experiencing pain or discomfort. Their high level of sensitivity also means they quickly sense discomfort in others and can become deeply moved as a result. HSP isn’t a disorder, but it is recognition of the fact that some people seem to process sensory information much more deeply and emotionally than others. This means they might become over stimulated and are also very sensitive to smells, sounds, and light.

Transition barriers

One of the most natural things in the world is to turn to others for support in times of anxiety and stress. It’s a great way to unburden, and seen through another person’s eyes, it can often help put things into perspective. Highly sensitive people may find great comfort in turning to friends and loved ones. Whether we are HSP or not, there are things we can do to help ourselves. For example:

  • Try to stay flexible. It’s not always possible to plan and predict how a change should run its course, and the more rigid you are, the greater the stress when things don’t conform to what you’d hoped or planned for.

  • There’s a pattern to change that often affects us. During the early stages of a major transition, it can either leave us feeling overwhelmed or slightly euphoric. Accepting that a transition has happened and there’s no turning back can give rise to complex emotions. It’s now important to try and let go.

  • New places, new situations, and new people can be exciting or challenging. Keep an open mind and pace yourself.

  • Accept and embrace your emotions. Transitions are a process, and even positive change can provoke anxiety. Transitions have a beginning but they do come to a close. In between you’re allowed to feel anxiety, anger, confusion, happiness, and curiosity.

  • Remind yourself of your strengths and past successes. We all have them and it’s good to remind ourselves of these when times get tough.

Moving forward

There are so many different kinds of transition, that it simply isn’t possible to cover everything. Moving to a new house is quite different from becoming a parent, yet both are examples of transitions that may cause stress and anxiety. Whether or not you feel highly sensitive to change, there’s a lot to be said for positive thinking. Negative thoughts and regrets only serve to cause worry and resentment, whereas seeing transition in a positive way opens us up to new experiences, new contacts, new routines, and opportunities.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of