One of the most annoying parts of my personality is my requirement before starting out on anything to learn all about it, plan every decision, prioritize into importance, then before acting – break down each priority into infinitesimal minute manageable steps. Sometimes, it takes me forever to get started. However, once I do I am ‘A for away’ as I can go full steam ahead, knowing I only need to tackle one of those baby steps at a time and knowing I can handle each one of them.
Being thrown off my life’s direction with the separation was especially difficult because, apart from everything else associated with the trauma, it did not fit into my logical-thinking ‘must-have-a-plan’ brain. As the feelings of anger, fear and turmoil swirled around me; I was under a great deal of stress. After about three months of trying to cope with the stress and failing abysmally, I decided to go back to the basics of how I had coped with previous difficult periods by my motto ‘learn – plan – prioritise’; and try applying it to stress factors.
I decided as a first step I would learn all I could about stress. On the internet, I found a psychologists rating scale that rated stressful events with death of a spouse coming in highest at 100, divorce 73, personal injury 53 and so on down to vacation 13 and Christmas 12. I rated all that I was going through: divorce, business readjustment, daughter leaving home; change in finances, work responsibility, living conditions, personal habits, work hours, recreational habits, social habits, sleep habits, and family gatherings; holidays and Christmas; plus daily stress triggers not on the list of time management, work-related issues, and frustrating inconveniences. I scored 405 where supposedly over 150 puts you in the danger category for health problems.
With all I was going through, one would wonder how I could cope. However, to my logic brain reading all about this gave me a life-line as I was able to compartmentalise the stresses in my life into categories:
(1) DARK EVENTS – death, divorce, disability, displacement, disaster, debt crisis, disease
(2) LIFE’S MILESTONES – achievements, son or daughter leaving, moving home, retirement, changing jobs or work conditions or work responsibilities, taking out a major loan, living alone
(3) CHRONIC PROBLEMS – ill-health, ill-health of family member, financial stress, hectic lifestyle, inability to accept situation as is, abuse, arguments, conflicts in the home or workplace,
(4) LIFESTYLE – diet, exercise, sleep, attitude, alcohol or caffeine use; excess workload, time management, perfectionism, overflowing in-box, failure to take time-out and relax, boredom,
(5) INTERRUPTIONS – social activities, holidays, Christmas, Family gatherings, travel
(6) INCONVENIENCES – commuting, driving in traffic, stuck in traffic, interruptions, disrespectful people
I thought of those things I could control and those that I could not. For those things that I could control, I could choose to do this in a positive way. For those I could avoid, I would avoid or delay to reduce my overall stress levels. For those things that I could not control, I could control my attitude towards them.
The dark event I was facing was the divorce process which had arisen beyond my control. I changed my attitude and began looking on it as an annoying but temporary event in my life. I let it go (eventually).
Life’s milestones. I chose to enjoy life’s triumphs such as my daughter’s graduation. I chose to delay the challenging event of moving home and selling the business. When other stresses in my life reduced, I could focus on these but not yet. That left only ‘living alone’ that I needed to work on.
For chronic problems; I had to face and deal with my financial situation, and some work conflicts. For obvious reasons, conflicts in the home were now zero – one positive.
Lifestyle was the area over which I could exert full control.
Interruptions particularly social events and holidays are generally the highlights of what makes life worthwhile. Some people view these as an escape from stress. It is important to recognise they can also add to stress levels. My aim would be to reduce these to a minimum. I chose to keep including family gatherings, Christmas and holidays; but I delayed or reduced other social gatherings and getting into a regular social group.
Inconveniences. My stress levels were so high, for a while irritations did push me over to ‘red alert’. As I reduced stress in my everyday life, I gave these inconveniences the attention they deserved – zero.
In summary, I managed to halve the stress factors in my life by;
1. I narrowed my initial overwhelming list down to a much shorter ‘top-priority’ list of family relationships, living alone, business and finances, and committing to a healthy lifestyle. My next step would be to look at each of those in turn in order to prioritise within them.
2. I delayed moving or making any major change to my work or lifestyle.
3. I avoided negative people, unimportant acquaintances, unnecessary events. I disregarded inconveniences.
4. I let go of the emotional upheaval of the separation. This was actually the hardest, yet most important first step. To ‘let go’ of the overwhelming sadness that I felt so that I could have the energy to focus on what was important in my new life. The underlying support to ‘learn – plan – prioritise’ for the future, was being able to say “let it be” to the past.