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Change is an inevitable, necessary and often positive part of life. Sometimes however, major changes or life stage transitions (especially unexpected ones) such as moving schools, or starting university/TAFE, can become overwhelming and stressful. It is important that young people learn how to cope and adapt to change to maintain optimal physical health and mental wellbeing.

Difficult life stage transitions include:

  • changing schools
  • starting high school, university or TAFE
  • moving to a new area or different country
  • starting employment.
Girl in purple shirt leaving house

What are life stage transitions?

Life stage transitions may include things like moving schools, starting or finishing university or TAFE, starting a new job, adjusting to chronic illness, moving away from friends or family etc. They can have a serious impact of general health and wellbeing. Adjusting to change is important, and something that many young people may struggle with. Life changes that are not in the person’s control, such as being forced to change schools or relocate, can be especially unsettling and difficult to adjust to.

Young people often face many challenges at school, university or TAFE. Difficulties making friends, with bullying and feeling overwhelming exam stress are common experiences.

Signs and symptoms someone is not coping well with change:

  • feeling like they can’t cope, either with a specific problem or task, or just in general
  • constantly feeling under pressure or that they are being weighed down by others
  • feeling lost and unsure of oneself
  • feeling anxious, irritable, moody or upset much of the time
  • exhaustion
  • not wanting to engage in social activities or attending school
  • difficulty sleeping or restless sleep.

How young people can manage life stage transitions

There are many things that young people can do to manage change and minimise stress and uncertainty. Focusing on understanding the change, what it means for the person and why it is so stressful is an important first step. Another useful step is to focus on the potential positive outcomes or things associated with the change, for example having to start at a new school can be a great opportunity to make new friends, and doesn’t necessarily mean ending existing friendships.

Specific plans can be made according to what is stressful about a situation. For example, if a person is feeling isolated or lonely at university, especially if they have had to relocate to attend, then joining a club or organisation at university may be a good way to meet new people. Other general relaxation techniques, such as breathing and mindfulness exercises are effective tools in managing and overcoming stress.

In the event of bullying, talking with someone trusted about how to manage the situation (which may involve talking to a teacher or those bullying), and how it is making the person feel can be helpful.

ReachOut.com resources on life stage transitions

Recommended professional resources

How to help

  • Reassure the person that it is natural and common to experience difficulty and anxiety with change.
  • Encourage the person to keep problems in perspective, without sounding as though you are dismissing the issue at hand.
  • Suggest or brainstorm useful coping strategies.