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One Swallow Doesn’t Make a Summer – Dealing with Setbacks

Was anyone else enjoying the warmer, sunny days and thinking that the frosty mornings were behind us? I even saw a swallow the other day! But true to form, the British weather has brought us back to icy winds and frost-bitten plants.

How do we cope with these variations and setbacks? How do we manage thinking that we have got through a tricky period and suddenly find ourselves in a difficult place again?

Somehow it is easier with the weather. We are used to the weather changing, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse but when it is our mood and sense of wellbeing that changes, it can seem harder to accept.

When we are coping with change and adjusting to a new way of being, it is tempting to assume that the road ahead will be a steady one. There are ideas about grief that talk about stages in a way that leads us to think that once we have passed through one stage, then we will leave that behind and move onto the next one. And while it can be helpful to realise that we all go through a process as we let go of what was before and adjust to what is now, it also leaves us vulnerable to feeling that we have somehow ‘gone backwards’ when we feel some of the same emotions and have some of the same thoughts we felt in the past.

Suddenly we are feeling worried or disappointed about how we are feeling because we thought we had done with that stage. This feeling and thinking in response to how we are feeling can add to our levels of stress so it is useful to notice if we are judging what is going on. And if we are, to remind ourselves about being our own best friends.

There is another way of thinking about our journey when we have experienced loss. Two psychologists, Stroebe and Schut, developed a model of grief and loss around the idea of oscillating or moving back and forth between ‘loss-oriented’ experiences and ‘restoration oriented’ experiences.

Some days we might find ourselves feeling grief and loss, finding that this impacts our daily life, and other days we might be focussed on life in the present and future. Over time, we might spend more time engaged in our new identities and being distracted from feelings of loss but there may still be times when we revisit them.

Understanding that this is the process and that there is no going backwards, only getting through in the best way we can, might help us to give ourselves a break. The kinder we can be to ourselves as we go through life, the less stress we will create and the easier life will be.

It is learning, this process of adapting through life as things change. Learning is about building on what has gone before and accepting when there are mistakes and setbacks. In fact, we probably learn more when the road is rocky than we do when everything goes smoothly.

Having said that, I wish you more smooth than rough as we move into May. There will be more swallows soon.