The ‘Coping Plateau’
When it Hits and How to Fight Back
by Latoya Reid, Registered Social Worker at BMAW
As I pondered about this commonplace issue of reaching a plateau within our coping with mental health, the following personal anecdote populates my mind:
I struggle with seborrheic dermatitis; consequently, I exercise mindfulness in my dietary selections, skin routine, managing my stress levels, coupled with consistently taking my medication. There are, however, episodes of flare-ups that leave me feeling despondent, frustrated and unmotivated. I was forced to assimilate the knowledge that I was consistently following my routine and adhering to the administration of my medications, yet all this proved futile in keeping my flare-ups at bay. Even increased use of my current dosage of medication or combination/ cocktail of several strategies proved ineffective. In that moment, I am left wondering about where I may have gone wrong and what more I needed to do to improve things. Broken, disheartened, feeling helpless and hopeless while feeling embarrassed about my facial blemishes/disfiguration, I am forced to consult with my medical professional for a way to rise above this ‘plateau’ in my health regime.
Plateaux in wellness are not uncommon. Individuals on weight loss or fitness journeys can relate to occasionally hitting a plateau and feeling stagnant. This plateau can often have the impact of discouraging individuals from triumphing or continuing the path to their wellness goals. Nutritionists and fitness coaches, when consulted, find this stage of stagnation (plateau) all too familiar. Their simple recommendation? Diversification.
Diversify or add something unfamiliar to your current fitness regime. This small but significant effort tends to push the body and mind out of its routine and comfort zone into the proximal zone of trying to adjust, adapt and accommodate in creating a new comfort zone. Rather ironic, right? I know. Why push yourself out of one comfort zone in order to be pushed out of that zone again. Albert Einstein sums this idea in one simple quote: “A ship is always safe at shore but that is not what it is built for”.
As human we thrive on overcoming hurdles and testing our limits. This feeling of accomplishing has a dual role of providing reassurance and also motivation. The moment we allow ourselves to stay in areas of comfort and continue to do the same tasks, boredom sets in and that is when we feel stuck or underchallenged.
Injecting diversity into our lives reaffirms our ability to be adaptable and versatile. This, however, should not be done dramatically; instead, progressively so that we can slowly adjust and still experience the joy of accomplishment enough to keep us motivated. Without strategic timing and proper guidance, the adverse effect can lead to a plummet in self-despair and doubt where we are fearful of progressing past our comfort zones.
This anecdote can be applied to coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, depression, and a gamut of mental health disorders. Whatsoever your mental health struggle you may be experiencing or may have experienced a period when previous coping mechanisms are found to be ineffective in getting you to self-regulate. Once strategies and efforts of coping are normalized/sensationalized and become a routine that no longer requires purposeful effort or mindfulness, we become susceptible and vulnerable to a stagnated phase. During episodes of vulnerability or increased stress where that which we found effective in bringing about reprieve or resolution is no longer having the same effect. This is what I coined to be known as the ‘coping plateau’.
Coping plateaux are indications of the need to diversify or adjust our current regime. If making adjustments were the simple resolution when this segment hits, there would be no need for this blog. The complexity with coping plateaus is that they are often aligned with the awkward timing of increased vulnerability due to a crisis or triggering event which can lead to regression to maladaptive ways of coping, feeling stuck, lacking motivation, negative/ intrusive thoughts, diminished self-confidence, among so many others. All are contributing factors to anxiety, depression, cognitive distortions, etc. with a snowball effect of potentially leading to self-sabotaging behaviours.
Once we understand the nature of these behaviours or patterns, it is easier for us to know how to adjust our sails and not internalize or personalize that problem as rooted in us. After, consulting my medical doctor about my recent flare of seborrheic dermatitis, I was reassured that it was not my fault. It was the nature of my illness. Just as human was evolve, it was the same for my illness. It had grown the ability to rebuff the attacks from my current regime and could only be combatted by adjusting or diversifying my regime. I was able to settle a mixture of new and old medications, and increase the frequency of my hair washing, then gradually reintroduce my exposure to sunlight. All this information was certainly not new to me. I should have known. This has been an issue for the past 20 years, but quite naturally I was back in my comfort zone of thinking that by some miracle I was cured.
To some of you, this blog provides no new knowledge. It is just a refresher that was needed. For others who may not have had this insight, this information can act as a resource if and when you meet a plateau in your mental health coping.
Here are some ways of coping (in no order priority nor is the list exhaustive):
- Do not avoid the emotions; allow yourself to notice and experience the emotions associated with your triggers
- Listen to your body and look for the signs of fatigue and burnout
- Be mindful of when your current coping strategies start to feel like a routine or requires little effort on your pa
- Be open-minded and look into discovering new interests to add to your current list of coping strategies
- Never lose sight of your progress and past/current accomplishments
- Give yourself credit for even what you perceive as small successes
- Take time to reassure yourself with positive self-talk/ affirmations when unhealthy or irrational thoughts creep into the mind
- Self-soothe using your senses to reduce the intensity of unwelcomed emotions
- Connect with positive supports or join peer support groups
- Focus on the now; live in the moment with mindfulness
- Do something you enjoy
- Speak to your health practitioner about making adjustments to current medication or to start on medications
- Reach out for support from a mental health therapist
If you have questions, or feel that you need more support trying to find this balance, please contact us or book an appointment, or contact Latoya at email@example.com for individual counselling.
We are here for you and any of your questions… reach out to us via firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-232-2780.