Life Transitions

Some of the most stressful life events and transitions can involve the following according to research carried out by Richard Rahe and his research team (2000; 1972):

  • Death of a spouse or child
  • Divorce
  • Marital separation
  • Imprisonment
  • Death of a close family member
  • Personal injury or illness
  • Marriage
  • Dismissal from work
  • Marital reconciliation
  • Retirement

The following events were listed as ‘honourable mentions’ to the top 10 most stressful events.

Change in health of family member

  • Pregnancy
  • Sex difficulties
  • Gain of a new family member
  • Change in financial state
  • Death of a close friend
  • Change to a different line of work
  • Son or daughter leaving home
  • Begin or end school/university
  • Change in residence
  • Making a major change to sleeping habits
  • Making a major change to eating habits

While many well-being commentators emphasise the importance of resilience and positive thinking when these changes happen, this may mask over important areas of psychology including:

  • grief over the loss that has taken place (McCollough et al, 2003)
  • acceptance that you are probably having to start a new phase of life as a novice and that this will involve a few different perceived failures as you transition; this period of time may involve feelings that mimic anxiety, depression and ongoing stress (Dweck, 1999)
  • accepting that identity may evolve over this period (Hayes, Strosahl & WIlson, 2012)

Psychological therapy may assist in life transitions as a way to discuss grief, change and challenges that await. Psychological therapy can also help in determining ways to balance acceptance and change during life transitions.

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Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.

Hayes, S.C., Strosahl, K.D., Wilson, K.G. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The process and practice of mindful change (2nd edition). New York: Guilford Press.

McCullough, L et al. (2003). Treating Affect Phobia: A Manual for Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy.

Rahe et al. (2000). The stress and coping inventory: an educational and research instrument. Stress Medicine, 16, 199-208.

Rahe et al. (1973). Prediction of near-future health change from subjects' preceding life changes. Journal of psychosomatic research, 14, 401-406.