Rollercoasters scare me. Especially the one in my mind. You know, that emotional rollercoaster that appears out of nowhere when things all around me are changing and life seems out of control. My mind seems determined to get me to board.

Transitions, whether chosen or imposed, personal or professional, can send us on an emotional rollercoaster unlike anything else.

Understanding the neuroscience behind your thoughts, emotions, and actions during these times can be incredibly helpful and empowering. The more aware you are to the relationship between how your brain is wired and the actions and experiences you’ve had as a result, the better equipped you’ll be in keeping your emotional rollercoaster on the tracks.

You’ll feel more in control. Here’s how it works.

At the core of our reactions to change is the brain’s fundamental design. Neuroscience reveals that thoughts and emotions are deeply interconnected, engaging in something akin to a beautifully choreographed, yet complex dance. This dance, a delicate balance between the cognitive and emotional selves, is flawless. Each step and turn are executed with precision.

Just like a waltz.

But when life throws a curveball or hurls you deep into a major transition, the music can suddenly change from a waltz to a foxtrot or maybe the twist without so much as a warning. (I know. I’m dating myself.)

Dancers who were gliding smoothly across the dance floor may find themselves stumbling, trying to keep up with the faster tempo and different movements.

The image you have in your mind right now might be amusing, but it’s a great metaphor for how we react when life throws unexpected curveballs at us. Our once choreographed integration of thoughts and emotions (our waltz) now has new music and a new challenge.

We’re suddenly out of sync, and it starts with our thoughts. “Hey wait! I thought we were dancing a beautiful waltz. But now Chubby Checker wants us to do the twist. I’m not dressed for that. And worse, I don’t know how to do that! I’ll look like a fool!”

And those thoughts turn into fear as you board the emotional rollercoaster for a pretty wild ride.

You see, thoughts, whether positive or negative, spark chemical reactions in the brain. These reactions, in turn, generate emotions, which can be powerful motivators for your actions. Unfortunately, this process can also cause you to spiral down into the depths of negativity, resulting in actions that continue to reinforce any fears and insecurities.

Your brain’s negativity bias (a tendency to pay more attention to negative experiences than positive ones), means your perception of the situations or circumstances is skewed.

This focus on the negative (potential dangers and setbacks) can make you feel stuck, unable to move forward or make decisions. Instead of thinking about opportunities and possibilities, you’ll be trapped in a cycle of fear and inaction, worrying about what could go wrong.

Unless you know how to manage it.

Fortunately, neuroscience also offers insights into breaking free from this cycle. Here are strategies women can use to manage their thoughts and emotions during transitions, fostering resilience and positivity:

  1. Mindfulness and Meditation: Engaging in mindfulness practices can help quiet the mind and reduce the impact of negative thoughts. Meditation, in particular, has been shown to decrease activity in the amygdala (responsible for emotional processing) and increase connections to the prefrontal cortex (involved in planning and decision making). This helps calm emotional responses and enhance decision-making capabilities.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Techniques: These strategies involve recognizing and challenging negative thought patterns, then replacing them with more balanced and positive ones. Examining the evidence for and against limiting beliefs, will help you begin to dismantle them, which opens up new possibilities for action.
  3. Physical Exercise: Regular physical activity can significantly impact brain chemistry, increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are linked to mood regulation and a sense of well-being.
  4. Social Support: Building and leaning on a supportive network can provide not only emotional comfort but also different perspectives that can help you challenge your limiting beliefs and allow you to open up to new opportunities.
  5. Setting Small, Achievable Goals: Breaking down larger goals into smaller, manageable tasks can help build confidence and momentum, making the overall transition seem less daunting.

Armed with an understanding of how thoughts and emotions are intertwined and influenced by the brain’s wiring, women can approach transitions with a sense of empowerment rather than fear. By actively managing thoughts and emotions, you’ll be better able to manage the emotional rollercoaster ride and navigate the complexities of change with grace and confidence.

As you think about transitions and new chapters, remember that transitions are not just about endings but also about beginnings. They offer a unique opportunity to reassess your values, goals, and aspirations, so you can design a life aligned with your deepest desires and potential.

Managing the emotional rollercoaster ride is only one of five mistakes women make when planning for retirement (or any life transition for that matter). Grab my free resource to learn about the other four and how you can avoid making the same mistakes.