I’m a firm believer that when you need to learn a lesson, life throws challenges your way highlighting what you need to learn until you have no option but to learn it. Having been depressed since five because of bullying I was constantly dealing with challenges which, in later life, caused me to have a breakdown. It was as if life was trying to point me in the direction of the coping mechanisms I needed in order to live a happy, productive and meaningful life.
After each episode of depression I continuously failed to change my coping mechanisms and life strategy, so life just threw bigger and bigger challenges my way until my breakdown caused me to hit rock bottom and take stock of my life. And, as it turned out, rock bottom was the best thing to ever happen to me. It made me sit up and finally pay attention to life’s signs that how I was trying to cope wasn’t working. I got the help I needed by going to therapy which gave me invaluable life skills that would stay with me and steer me back on course to where I was meant to be.
Therapy provided me with strategies to monitor what caused my setbacks so I could effectively predict when I was most at risk and use my newfound skills to help prevent setbacks preemptively, or if that wasn’t possible, reduce both the severity and length of them. In short, therapy taught me resilience and how to bounce back from tough times fast.
The thing about setbacks is that they are indiscriminate; they can happen to anyone no matter how successful or seemingly wonderful a life you lead. They are often unforeseen and can be caused by breakups or divorces, becoming unemployed, dealing with the death of someone you love, depression or even mid-life crisis. Pain is pain no matter what its cause but it doesn’t have to become the narrative of your life, you can overcome great difficulty and pain and emerge triumphant with a life full of beauty and meaning.
It’s worth distinguishing between a setback and a breakdown. A setback is certainly awful and although your functioning is definitely impaired you can still function on a basic level. A breakdown on the other hand, causes you to be unable to perform common activities of day-to-day living, halting your ability to function altogether. The key is to recognize the early warning signs of a setback so you can avoid the setback or reduce its severity to the extent that it doesn’t develop into a breakdown.
So that you can recognize both the early warning signs for a setback and the risky signs that you may be headed for a breakdown I have outlined them below – this can now be your go to list in tough times when you need to recognize if you’re at risk so you can prevent things getting any worse (more on that later).
Early signs that you are headed for a setback – amber zone symptoms and behavior:
- Stress levels increase
- You may feel panicky at times
- Your develop low mood or your existing depression becomes slightly worse
- You develop anxiety or your existing anxiety becomes slightly worse
- You become agitated easily
- You sleep behavior changes – either sleeping more or less than usual and for no immediately obvious reason
- Your appetite noticeably reduces or increases due to stress or anxiety
- You start to rely on alcohol as a means of relaxation or escapism (to distract yourself from your problems)
- Substance abuse: you start taking drugs and / or you increasingly use drugs as a means of relaxation or escapism (to distract yourself from your problems)
Risky signs that you are headed for a breakdown – red (danger zone) symptoms and behavior:
- Stress levels increase to severe and overwhelming level
- Your existing depression becomes much worse or you develop depression
- Your anxiety becomes much worse or you develop anxiety; this might include panic attacks
- You get angry very easily
- Your mood is both unstable and hard to regulate
- Sleep is severely impacted – either sleeping excessively or severe lack of sleep
- You eat almost nothing or an excessive amount due to stress or anxiety
- You alcohol consumption increases to excessive levels and / or you drink much more frequently
- Substance abuse: your drug use significantly increases and / or becomes considerably more frequent
Stay tuned – next week we will examine how to prevent things getting any worse and what to do if you are exhibiting any of the above signs.
Can you think of any more signs that might indicate someone is at risk of a set back or breakdown? Have you ever displayed any of these signs? What did you do to handle them and did it work? Please share your thoughts in the comments below to gain encouragement, insight and support from our community, we’d love to hear from you.