This page provides an opportunity to reflect on the journey you have made while you have been visiting Stress SelfCare.
Stress SelfCare has been designed to help you cope with stress. You have developed the knowledge, skills and attitudes that provide a measure of understanding about the interactions there are between you as a person and your stresses. You have developed techniques to manage stress and have learned which technique to use in which circumstance. All this has enhanced your ability to cope, survive, and even overcome the stresses you have experienced. And just maybe it has increased your enjoyment of life!
You have been following three threads as they intertwined throughout your journey through Stress SelfCare. These are based on a ’medical model’ in which the ways stress affects you (the symptoms) are assessed and analysed, the causes of the experiences of stress are identified (the diagnosis) and then techniques are used to develop a management plan to control and overcome stress (the treatment).
Thread one – the Symptoms
It seems obvious that if you know yourself, you know when you are stressed – and that works well for much of the time. However, as you reflect on your life experiences you will have recognised there have been times when you were well on the way to a catastrophe before your realised you needed to take action. This thread, therefore, has an important role in enabling you to identify at an early stage when you are becoming stressed. The pattern of those symptoms is unique to you but the pattern may change with the nature of the stress and also as you progress through life. Self-reflection will be helpful.
Some symptoms of stress in themselves can be stressful, for example – stress headaches, fear, difficulty sleeping – so they need some attention. This will not help with the underlying stress but will enable you to cope better. It is important to go back to Delving Deeper/Recognising Your Symptoms of Stress from time to time to review your symptoms. It is especially helpful to go over the symptoms with someone who knows you well and whom you trust, to gain the benefit of their insights and observations about how you behave when stressed. There is no need to rush into this. It is more important that you have the right person who knows you well; it is someone you trust and who cares for you.
Thread two – the Diagnosis
Sometimes the cause of your stress is obvious but as you have explored the reasons for stress it becomes clear that there are often numerous factors at play. Next time you are stressed reflect on what happened and ask yourself questions such as:
What is different this time?
If this had happened a month (or year) ago would it have been so stressful?
Why has it happened now?
How would other people cope with this situation?
What else is going on in my life that makes this situation harder to deal with?
What situations have I been in before that may be affecting the way I cope with this situation?
Do you get the idea? Use each stressful situation to learn about yourself, taking into account your experiences, memories and personality. The more you know about the different factors that influence your stresses and the way you react to them, the better able you will be to manage them. Making a ‘diagnosis’ is important.
Thread three – the Treatment
Probably this is what you were looking for when you came to this website:
‘A quick fix, please!’
‘Get it sorted so I can get back to my ‘real life!’
So management techniques were a major feature in the first module, Getting Started, and some techniques were covered in more depth in other modules. However, it is only when you have an understanding of how stress affects you (thread one) and what has happened in your life to make you susceptible to stress (thread two) that you can make best use of these techniques (thread three). You need a wide choice of management techniques so you can adapt your management according to the way you feel (your symptoms) and the various factors that have played a role in causing your stress (your diagnosis).
Continue to give attention to all three threads as you continue your journey.
When you are stressed you will tend to think of it as an event – something has happened, an isolated incident – that will go away or be resolved so you can move back into your normal life. However, a better concept is to see stress as a journey.
You probably came to this site as you were in trouble – you were in an ‘event’ and wanted help. It was a crisis and had to be managed as a priority. But right from the beginning, in Getting Started, you were introduced to the idea of seeing your current stress as part of a spectrum of stresses and life experiences. You learned to examine them and use a selection of technique to deal with them. You may not have resolved them at the first attempt so will have kept at it until you succeeded. Did you learn the value of leaving your stresses alone for a while so you could get on with the rest of your life? The rest is beneficial and you come back to the struggle with renewed energy and insight. If nothing else this exercise will give you practice and will help in future stresses.
At the time you needed a ‘fire-fighting’ attitude and specific techniques to survive the crisis. You did not have time or energy to give attention to the deeper questions such as,
‘Why am I the person I am?’
‘Why did this situation develop?’
You just had to learn how to cope. Only when you survived and reached an ‘oasis’ could you re-join the journey you need to travel. So you went to Moving Forward and then Delving Deeper learning how to explore your stresses at a more extensive and deeper level.
Your journey continues!
It will take many months and probably a few years, while you learn how to deal better with the stresses you are already experiencing – let alone those new ones that will inevitably occur. Reflect on how this journey will work out.
When you are stressed you need to focus on your stress and find ways to cope and overcome the difficulties. However, you also will do some key work when you are free from overwhelming stresses. Then you will have time to review your stresses and will be able to experiment. You can discover how to use different techniques and you can test how they work for you.
You may recognise recurring stages on this journey.
These are times of quietness and peace. Enjoy!
However, remember that oases are only temporary. You have to leave, sooner or later, and continue your journey through the desert (well, it can feel like that when you are stressed). Use this time for rest and relaxation but also for refreshment so you build up your strength and resources in preparation for the stresses that lie ahead.
Reflect on your journey so far. Anticipate what might happen in the next stages of your journey. Make lists, categorise stress, practice techniques for managing stress, keep notes and learn from your experiences. Then, when serious stress comes you will be prepared.
They will happen. Often unexpectedly. Before you know where you are you may be desperate and aware you are on the brink of melt down. Go back to basics. Back to Getting Started. And as you read, analyse, categorise and focus, keep doing the relaxation exercises to help you keep alert and maintain a balance between the details and the big picture.
You may have come to the website thinking you were all right basically and only needed to sort out one or two problems but now realise you are in a worse position than you thought! Coping with stress is stressful. You have too much to deal with. It is possible you may now feel less able to cope and more confused about what you should do. But that is not the end of the journey. It is temporary. There are a number of reasons for this and not all may apply to you.
As you followed thread one you learned to examine your symptoms of stress. That could have been stressful, as you may have had to think about aspects of your character and behaviour that you became embarrassed, frightened or ashamed about. If this was an unpleasant experience for you in any way, it is even more important to revisit this section when you are ready as you must be honest with yourself – not least, because these difficult issues may be important clues to understanding your stresses and how you can learn to cope with them.
In thread two you focussed on the causes of your stress and that may also be a reason for confusion and reduced confidence in your ability to cope. You investigated a large number of topics including the stresses of work and family life, the world in which you live, your personal history of stressful experiences and the memories of long forgotten or buried unpleasant experiences and relationships. Then there is the stress that comes from your own personality and behaviour. So much to cover! Some issues were never dealt with in any great depth. Usually it was just a brief mention as what is important to one person is irrelevant to another.
Therein lies the problem. Raising questions and resurrecting ancient memories of hurts or guilt and not exploring them or trying to resolve them – even if this only means acknowledging they happened and have to be lived with – can leave a sense of uncertainty, doubt and confusion. Hopefully, you have benefited from the ‘Pause for Thought’ pages when you were reminded to take time to reflect on how your reading related to your own experiences.
If anything is still unresolved set aside time in the next few weeks to reflect on the memories. It can be helpful to write about them or even draw pictures of them as this helps to express the emotions related to what happened. This is deeper and richer than just remembering the story. If they are unresolved and continue to trouble you, you may benefit from discussing the matter with a trusted friend or even a trained counsellor. Whatever you do take your time over this.
It may be hard to believe when you are overwhelmed by stress that there could be times when you will actually enjoy stress! If an aspect of your personality is that you work better and harder when faced with deadlines you will find pleasure in this, even though it is stressful. Once you recognise that, your attitude will change.
Living on the edge of danger may give you a thrill just for being there let alone what you achieve from the experience.
And then when you have learned how to cope with a recurring stress you will have a much more positive attitude when the next episode occurs.
All such experiences show you are learning to enjoy stress!
You think you have cracked a recurring problem but when it then reoccurs it throws you into a spin. You have looped back to where you started.
‘Is this failure?’
‘Have I screwed up completely?’
Such questions will trouble you but please do not despair. It happens! Look for something about the situation that has gone well and be encouraged. See this as a stepping stone to enable you to cross a bad patch in your life – maybe battered and worn but surviving!
You are powering happily along coping with life, resolving stresses and anticipating problems by building up your reserves but then you go round the next bend – and the path ends! A totally unexpected and overwhelming problem brings your life to a juddering halt. It may take some time to accept what has happened and then the only way out is to double back and find another route.
A Stroll in the Park!
Hopefully getting lost, looping back, crises and dead ends will happen less frequently as time moves on. As you are alert to the first sign of trouble and have developed better habits, coping with stress will tend to come naturally. You no longer have to think and struggle – well, not with every potentially stressful situation. You just know what to do so do it without a thought, more often than not. It may be only later that you realise how well you have managed – perhaps when friends and family congratulate you on coping so well.
Take time during your journey through life to reflect on what you hope to achieve. No doubt you will hope for a life of peace and comfort with all your problems resolved but that is a pipe-dream this side of eternity. Do not set your goals too high as the disappointment of failing to reach your goals can be heart breaking.
Set goals you can imagine achieving and when you do bask in the glory – and then set more goals.
Always bear in mind that stress is an inevitable part of life. But keep it in perspective! See stress as a challenge and adventure. See it as a test for you to prove yourself. You will cope with some stresses easily and happily but other stresses will be a struggle and will affect you deeply. Neither defines you. It is the overall experience of life that is a measure of who you are and your achievements.