The stress cycle is a three part cycle. There is
- an activating event
- the fight or flight response (It’s the response to the activating event)
- the recovery phase
This Section is on The Activating Event
Since this is an article that has a mental health, wellness and recovery focus this article explores the stress cycle as it sometimes happens to a person who is or has received psychiatric diagnosis as they end up caught (sometimes cycling and recycling) in the stress cycle.
For people who have a mental illness/psychiatric diagnosis, there may be multiple activating events that pile on top of one another. These events may look like:
- being arrested
- being arrested repeatedly
- becoming involuntarily homeless
- not able to file needed paperwork because of one’s thoughts being scrambled
- receiving an unwanted diagnosis
- receiving a wanted diagnosis
- being told one is no long able to take care of oneself
- —–off to the hospital one goes
- —–a guardian one shall have
- one discovers that one is unable to work
- being told one is no longer able to work
- one can work but feel one is underemployed due to a diagnosis
- and many more things that can happen
An activating event may be large or it may seem small. What is important is if the activating event has that meaning for that person.
Let’s say you have friends who love to power shop; but for you shopping (any kind of shopping) is a struggle. You are with a group of friends who decide to stop and power shop for 3 or 4 hours. You are in a place where it is not easy to get home from. You aren’t driving.
For people who love to power shop, this would not be an activating event. But for the person who
- doesn’t feel comfortable in large open areas with lots of florescent lights
- finds shopping a traumatic experience
- doesn’t like being in a crowd
- it hurts a lot to move
- or may just abhor power shopping
this situation could well be an activating event.
At the store, the person for whom this is an activating event; would have to decide, whether to stay and fight through the negative feelings that come up or whether to leave the area; maybe catch a bus or taxi home or possibly call for a ride. (Any of these choices may label you a total wet blanket or start people talking about what you can’t do).
Or the person could choose not to choose and try to ride out the feelings without ever acknowledging that an activating event is occurring.
What makes it an activating event is the severity of the reaction one has to the situation. If the situation doesn’t trigger the flight or fight response, then it is not an activating event in the stress cycle. The feeling of discomfort may still be there, but the feeling of discomfort might not/does not have to escalate into activating the fight or flight response.
It can be incredibly stressful, finding out one is ill enough to receive a diagnosis. Due to what one is told or what one believes to be true, one may or may not believe that recovery from the psychiatric diagnosis is possible. One’s life may seem as a bad nightmare which one can’t get out of.
What makes the diagnosis traumatic is belief(s) and perception(s) that come along with the diagnosis. One’s attitude, beliefs and perceptions will affect how disabling an activating event may be.
If someone in your family or someone you know has a mental illness/psychiatric diagnosis deals with it well and has a good quality of life; your belief that mental illness is the worst thing in the world may not be as strong. You may carry the hope that recovery is not just possible but probable then the diagnosis might not be as terrible.
If on the other hand, someone in your family or someone you know has a mental illness/psychiatric diagnosis and was made fun of, was never able to get a good quality of life, or has seen or experienced people with mental illness or psychiatric disorder that were unable to help themselves; then that activating experience may be very powerful due to the feeling of hopelessness due to one’s prior experience.
Click here to go to the next section: Fight or Flight Response