Intermissions in life usually accompany a major life change. The life change might be a marriage, the birth of a child, a promotion at work, or achievement of a milestone such as running a marathon. The life change may also result from the death of a loved one, a health crisis, a financial set back, a divorce, or the loss of a friendship.
Regardless of whether a life change is positive or negative, an internal transition occurs. It may result in unexpected emotions ranging from joy, giddiness, euphoria, and anticipation to grief, loss, and sadness.
You can anticipate many life changes such as graduation, moving, or retirement, and plan for the change by visualizing the results. Nonetheless, living through any change can be intense and difficult.
Major Change as Intermission
Over the years I’ve learned to consider the transition that accompanies a major change as an intermission. It’s a time to pause, a time to consider options, and a time to rest.
There is often a feeling of hollowness and emptiness. It seems that life is on hold. Days drift past. Everything seems in a state of flux. What provided stability and predictability seems lost. Unexpected bouts of tiredness, anxiety, and pessimism about the future occur.
Encountering a traffic intersection when taking a drive provides a good comparison. At an intersection, it’s natural to slow down, review the route, and consider whether to make a turn. A life intermission is also a time to take stock, review possibilities, and consider new options.
In his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, William Bridges describes three steps for adapting to a new situation. Bridges describes the loss and sadness associated with an ending. Then comes a messy ‘neutral’ phase; and finally, the capacity to embrace a new beginning.
Bridges contemplates the neutral zone as a time of limbo when fears and ambiguities need processing before a successful transition to a new situation. In the neutral phase there is distress and loss as a person struggles to find a new identity. I like to think of this time as a life intermission or a timeout for psychological growth and renewal.
Managing a Life Intermission
Here are seven considerations to help you successfully manage a life intermission.
- Take time for self-reflection. A life transition is an opportunity to rest and think. Journal writing and meditation are outlets that allow you to express emotions and let go of the past. Writing prepares you for the personal growth that comes from successfully dealing with a life transition.
- Allow time wasters. When you let go of productivity aspirations and take time to relax, you give your mind the flexibility to restore itself. There is no point in grinding away when your brain needs to run on idle.
- Focus on self-care. A life intermission is a time when you can focus on wellness and being kind to yourself. By keeping exercise routines, getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and enjoying soothing rituals you nurture your body, mind, and spirit in preparation for the energy needed to make a new beginning.
- Experience the range of emotions that go with a life transition. Transitions, even those that come from positive changes, are stressful. Frightening feelings including feelings of loss, sadness, anger, fear, regret, exuberance, anticipation, and happiness are normal reactions.
- Remember earlier life changes. How did you manage yourself during other transitions? Coping skills learned when navigating previous transitions will carryover to help you move from vulnerability to a new normal.
- Make plans for the future especially when feeling lost or alone. Life transitions are times when new routines and habits are easily formed. With planning and a positive attitude new experiences that promote personal growth and learning will occur.
- Allow time to incorporate the effects of the change into your life. At the theatre, intermission is prescribed. It happens in 20 or 25 minutes — enough time for a stretch and a biology break. When dealing with a major disruption, it’s difficult to forecast the time needed to shape a new identity. The time required will be unique to each of us and unique for the type of change. It will not happen in an orderly linear progression but in multi-dimensional fits and starts.
Treating a life transition like an intermission can lead to re-invention. In the aftermath of moving, I’m acutely aware of the mix of reactions and feelings I experience every week. Sometimes I have bursts of energy; on other days, I can’t focus, can’t remember important information, and can’t concentrate on complex tasks.
I’m using this time to re-assess where my life is going. It’s an excellent time to take stock and to re-create in preparation for a new beginning. This life intermission is a time to re-engineer, to understand the reality of living in a changed environment, and to prepare for another chapter of retirement. I’m in no hurry to move to the next phase. In fact, I plan to luxuriate in the limbo of this life intermission and let the world go by — at least for a little while as I need some time to replenish my energy bank!