It’s known that significant life changes, like a new baby and layoffs, can cause stress. However, small shifts in our days and lives are overlooked when it comes to anxiety. Perhaps you hate going to bed at night or the morning rush stresses you out.
These points are called micro-transitions. Experts define them as small moments where one event starts while another one is ending. These micro-transitions can include little points of your day, like bedtime, or more significant events, like the end of your vacation.
According to a psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Jeff Temple, we all have things that set us off, whether they’re triggers or micro-triggers. Temple adds that sometimes fearing these transitions can trigger us. Temple said, “There’s anticipatory anxiety, which is anxiety about being anxious, as opposed to actual things to be anxious about.”
Whether you’re diagnosed with anxiety or feeling stressed in these instances, there are ways to recognize which micro-transitions are more challenging for you and coping strategies. Here are some micro-transitions to watch out for and how to fight them.
The end of an exciting event.
Perhaps you’ve spent some time preparing for your upcoming family vacation, only to fixate on your last day as the end of the trip draws near. This anxiety could be caused by having fun and not wanting it to be over or having high expectations and feeling like your vacation wasn’t as fun as you thought it would be. So there’s a feeling of letdown and dread, which can materialize as anxiety that you wouldn’t feel otherwise.
Dark thoughts like to come around at night, so the setting sun or similar transitions can intensify your anxiety. There aren’t many theories on why this happens. One study revealed that sleep disruption is caused by a failure to control emotionally damaging information at night. Some psychologists say our caveman-esque brains, which used to scan for danger before bedtime in the early days, are to blame. Also, our brain’s negativity bias, where our mind focuses on bad news instead of good, can be a factor. At night, we think about numerous negative things that happen during the day.
Do you switch up how you parent when your partner isn’t around and your mother-in-law enters the room? Perhaps you’re more laid-back or stricter. Either way, an audience change can be a micro-transition that stresses you out. You can also call it “putting on a good face” at a party when you don’t want to go or feel like you can’t be yourself around certain people.
If you have an upcoming Zoom call and you know your child will wake up from their nap around the same time or the cable guy is about to arrive, you may feel like you’re being pulled in multiple directions. Perhaps it’s a more significant scenario: maybe you’ve committed to a distant relative’s wedding, and you get an invite to your friend’s wedding the same weekend.
Dreading the inability to balance responsibilities or obligations can lead to anxiety around those micro-transitions. Worrying about or anticipating issues that might arise can make your body go into fight or flight mode.
How to handle anxiety in these situations.
The first step to handling this kind of anxiety is recognizing the micro-transition that triggers you, which can be easier said than done. Some of the most challenging parts are identifying your anxious or negative thoughts. It’s about being reflective and mindful and paying attention to your ideas and body. It may help to write your thoughts down when you feel an automatic opinion coming.
These are the thoughts you don’t notice, like “I won’t be able to sleep tonight because of what I have to do tomorrow” or “This event is going to suck.” Once you can understand which thoughts are automatic, you can challenge them. That’s when you need to step back, sit down, and consider what just happened. Then you’ll figure out what you were thinking. When you take these steps, you’ll start to note a specific activity, time of day, or anything in your life causing you anxiety.
Once you understand your micro-transition triggers, you can work on preventing them. Then you can approach those transitions when you’re relaxed. So, for example, if the evening brings out your anxiety, practicing deep breathing and sitting down as that time starts can improve it. You can also set aside time for worrying to help categorize your thoughts. This tactic can be helpful if you feel anxious before going to bed.
Spend 10 minutes in the mid-morning, not right before going to bed, and record the things you’re anxious or worried about, staying seated the whole time. Later in the day, if something worries you, recognize the thought but save it for your designated worry time. Don’t try to stop yourself from having the idea because that’s not possible. Instead, allow yourself to think and be anxious about it, just not right now. Instead, make a note, and worry about it in the morning during worry time.
Lastly, know that you’re not alone in your anxieties. For example, in the Zoom call scenario, while your kid is napping, there are tons of other parents who feel the same way. By recognizing that anyone in your situation could feel the same feelings, you validate your emotions and give yourself some room to breathe.
Feeling anxious is a normal part of everyone’s day. However, some parts of the day make us more nervous than others. For example, you could feel anxious right before bed because you’re thinking about everything on your to-do list. The end of your vacation might make you feel anxious because it was something you have been looking forward to for so long. When you think these micro-transitions are taking over, take some time to recognize what is triggering you. Then understand that you shouldn’t ignore these emotions but rather validate them. Finally, know that you’re not alone. Once you take these steps, you can regain control of your life.