Our families teach us what is acceptable to perceive as stressful and what is acceptable behavior following stressful events. (Remember, “Don’t be a baby!”) Our friends and family react to stress in particular ways. We may learn to show we are under stress by: crying or silence; yelling or laughing; minimizing or exaggerating events. We learn from news reports as we watch how people react after floods, murders or even winning the lottery.
Ultimately you decide what is stressful. For each person, stress is unique in its causes although some events are common stressors to most people. There are effective ways to increase your resilience to stress and there are good techniques for reducing immediate feelings of stress. To succeed in preventing relapse, you will need to become an expert in detecting and taking action to reduce your stressors in your worlds of work, home, school, and social activities.
The first step is to learn quick relaxation techniques (such as described in Chapter 5) to reduce stress in specific situations. The second is to check for dysfunctional thinking when you interpret events. Finally, become aware of your own hidden agendas and practice using accurate language to label events. For example:
- Label some events as just unfortunate irritations such as a broken shoelace. Put it in perspective as a little irritating event. Take action. Tie the broken shoelace or wear other shoes. Get on with your day. Use humor and laugh about it.
- Label a series of events as “one bad day.” Late for work, burnt supper, and tripped over the carpet. Put it in perspective. Well, it was just a bad day. Take action to reduce your feelings of stress and irritation. Meditate. Go for a run. Laugh with a friend about it. Recognize that everyone has those stress filled days.
- Label events over time as unrelated and unfortunate events. Get on with solving individual problems. Keep track of successes. Build more resilience by eating right, exercising, developing and revisiting values. Know that change is the only constant. Things will change for you.
Using accurate language requires you to check for dysfunctional thinking and check for automatic assumptions about events or people in your life. It requires you to pause and reflect for a moment before acting. It’s a great relapse prevention coping skill.