STUGs – what are they? Where do they come from? How can we stop them? Will someone please explain what a bloody STUG is?

Last week I was reflecting on waves of grief and triggers. It would’ve been very easy for me to skip on and start talking about the next topic which is all about being OK with grief. But, I’ve decided to press pause on skipping ahead, because the waves of grief and the triggers represent a big deal to all of us. I’ve read time and time again, forum posts from people struggling to deal with something that has come at them from left field, that’s left them feeling shit. So with this in mind, I just wanted to steady the ship, and take some time to research the phenomena called STUG.

This started when I stumbled on an excellent piece from a psychologist called Jackson Rainer*, who describes the triggering moments when he sees or hears something that reminds him of his late wife. The thing is, with his article Jackson perfectly describes the reaction I can feel when something comes at me, without me having my defences adequately in place. And I think we can all relate to the pain he feels. I mean how many of these can you relate to?

  • Feeling like you’ve been sucker-punched – the last time this happened for me, was watching ‘Inside Number 9’. It was a brilliant episode, but it had a small baby in it. I tried to ignore this, but there’s a scene when the mother picks it up, and there I was again, focusing on my breath to avoid the tightness taking hold in my chest.
  • Tears, anger, pain – I pride myself on my Britishness when it comes to showing emotions, especially in public when it could be frowned upon for showing anything less than the appropriate levels of Sangfroid. But, given the randomness of the triggers it can be tough to keep the composure in place when they’re coming at you from everywhere. Take shopping for example, it could be a child having a meltdown over not being able to have a chocolate bar, but that still shows me what I can’t have and that’s still very fucking painful.
  • Nothing less than sheer bloody panic – It’s the terror that seemingly envelopes me whole, when I am faced with something that reminds me of my loss(es). Only yesterday my brain was playing me a snapshot of how it would be to visit an old friend who has children. I’d stumbled on their Christmas card and their annual update. I would dearly love to go and see them because it’s been about 6 years since the last visit, which feels utterly shaming. But, this little video montage showed me that even the thought of sitting down to a meal with them and their children makes me bloody panic. I can feel the clench in my chest, the shallow breathing and the panic as the emotions rear up yet again, just at the thought of it.

 So what are STUGs? They are Sudden Temporary Upsurges of Grief. Sounds familiar right!? That’s because, if like me you’re progressing along your grief path and have come out the end of the relentless stage, you’re now likely finding that grief is coming and going, as and when you notice a trigger or someone says something insensitive. And doubtless, you will have resonated with the examples I gave above, so is this bloody normal?

Yes! That’s right, you and I might not believe it, but this is a normal part of the process as we progress along the grief cycle, trying to get to acceptance. Ours is a ‘complicated grief’, which means that it can last longer than a ‘normal’ (is there such a thing?) episode of grief. It can also see the grieving person, excessively avoiding or focusing on the cause of their grief. The result being that the person can be affected by intense feelings of sorrow, low self-esteem, bitterness and potentially develop dependencies on drugs, alcohol, food, whatever they need to use to cope*.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It does to me. So what can we do to help us cope with the STUGs then, when they pop up to catch us out? For me, there are a couple of things that help me:

  • Recharging my batteries. Grief is complicated, painful and unique, which means that no-one gets to judge us if we feel that we need to take some time out to process. For me this involves removing myself from social events, people and just finding some time for me. I referenced a ‘safe space’ last week and for me this is home. I stay in, I journal, I garden, or I just sit – whatever I feel I need to do at that time to recharge.
  • Grounding myself. This sounds a bit hippy-dippy, but it helps me to realise that I’m safe. Whatever has triggered me can only affect me in that moment and not beyond, even if the emotions stay I am still safe. Watch my video on Friday for an exercise to help you ground when you’ve been triggered.  
  • Sleep. When I’ve had one of those days, when I’ve been triggered or just had to deal with something intense, I often go to bed earlier than usual, just to draw a line under the day. I found myself doing this a lot around the time of my hysterectomy, not least because I was shattered, but also because it meant I was able to draw a line under the shit day and focus on a new one. It’s a fresh start it you like.

There are likely other things you can do, and perhaps you do them without thinking because you have developed a number of coping mechanisms. But, if that’s the case then become aware of them and make a note. It took me a while to notice my coping mechanisms, but when I did I was better able to deal with things when they were thrown at me out of the blue.



Nothing is going to stop the STUGs coming at us, but at least we know that it’s a normal part of the process

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