At one point or another we all hit the stage when we become overwhelmed in stressful situations. it’s like a wave breaks over us and we get sucked under. One new bit of information, one more request from out of nowhere, one more irritating phone call — something happens to add that final push… and we get pulled under.
Mentally, we can fray or go foggy, which blankets our formerly clear vision. This mental static eats away at our ability to make productive choices, to make thoughtful decisions, and prioritize calmly. Our plans to use our energy in constructive ways crumble, along with that energy. Poof!
Stress affects everyone differently. Some may zombie-shuffle through basics tasks. Others may feel like they’re moving in circles, or spinning their wheels. Some people internalize their stress, others externalize it, and the effects either way ripple out.
Under stress, trying to put ‘first things first’ is like walking through a blizzard. When the stress really hits us, we can’t see straight, or think calmly, or get our bearings.
Being overwhelmed drains our energy and our ability to think clearly, and hamstrings our momentum. Whether the stress is chronic or acute, it can still overpower your ability to handle things well, and leave you feeling shaken and futile.
To replenish your energy and somehow ‘go back to your regular program’, you need to get a new perspective on the stress-full situation. To do that, you can walk away, you can do something else, or you can stop and do nothing. (Yes, nothing. Yet.)
One way of getting a new viewpoint is to mentally drop and walk away from the problem. Done well, this is the mental equivalent of “Stop, drop and roll,” a good thing to do when you feel like your brain is toast.
Why walk away? When we are too close to something we are enmeshed with it. It is all we can think of, and all we see when we close our eyes.
We can’t think clearly and that contributes to the problem. We’re too close. We’re too close, and no wonder we can’t see anything else, or see clearly at all.
Think of it: When you’re standing too close to something, it blocks your way. You can’t see past it. It dominates your field of vision. When you’re overburdened with tasks to complete, issues to resolve, running low on energy or running hot from frequent demands for attention — it creates stress.
And stress makes it worse.
When we take a break from the problem and walk away , we can use the space we just made to shake things off and focus on other matters.
We can mentally push away from the pressing issue and allow ourselves some breathing room away from what’s bothering us. It can be as physical as pushing away from our desks and taking a minute to collect ourselves. What other ways can you disengage from what’s troubling you?
You can stop and not act on it immediately.
Sometimes, being too close puts a false sense of urgency on the issue. What you can do is sleep on it. This buys you rest and time to refresh yourself. What troubles you until late at night can look totally different in the light of day.
In the same vein, putting the issue on ‘the back burner’ while doing something else can let your subconsciousness work on it while you’re busy with other matters. If the issue is not time-sensitive and won’t cause problems for yourself or for others down the line, by leaving it alone something else might come up that will make it a non-issue, or lessen its impact.
Walking away from a problem can help you go places (physically and mentally) where you can stumble upon new solutions that you couldn’t see when you were entangled, or be presented with help and choices you didn’t know were available. In essence, taking a break from the problem breaks down to three main steps.
- Stop! Kick it out of your head.
- Drop! Do something totally different for a little while.
- Roll with it it. See how this changes your perspective on the problem.
There is research done which proves that walking away works. The “breakout principle” states that if someone under stress can let go, step away from the problem , and engage is something entirely different for some ten to twenty minutes, this action of “dropping the issue” can break the overworked, over-working mind and body connections to the issue.
A consciously chosen disconnect creates a neurobiological change that counters the stress response. In turn, the ‘something else’ you choose to do helps generate fresh ideas, which generates the relaxation response — mentally and physically.
If your mind feels like a log-jam , walking away and doing something entirely different can be enough to dislodge the tangle in your head and shift things around so you can move again.
Stress can make you short-sighted, and frustrate easily. It can make you try harder, even when trying harder doesn’t help. Taking a break from the problem can boot you out of the rigid patterns of action and locked-in thinking that can characterize a stressed mind, and quite literally, change your way of thinking.
If you’ve observed that you’re prone to experiencing ‘blanking out’ or ‘going fuzzy’ often, you can prepare coping strategies ahead of time. It helps to write them down so you won’t have to think twice about what do do when you’re already verging on tipping over.
Keep the following strategies in mind when you begin to feel overwhelmed, pressured and mentally and/or emotionally blanking out:
- Stop – Pull back your attention, dial down your emotions, stop ‘working on it’ and drop the issue as if it were a live coal. When you’re tempted to come back to it, imagine picking up the live coal again.
- Drop -Don’t pick it up. Drop it, and move away. If you can move away in a physical sense, do so. A water break, a short walk, etc.
- Do something different.
You can prepare a list beforehand of low-stress, regenerative activities, if you know you’ll be too stressed to think clearly or make good decisions. Ideally, these activities can absorb your focus and interest without stressing you out even more. A few suggestions for these ‘stress-kits’:
- Coloring books or doodles. Maybe have some coloring books and a box of crayons or colored pencils handy for when you need it.
- Hand-crafts which involve repetitive motions, like knitting, cross-stitch, or crochet.
- Music helps, whether you’re listening to it, or making it. Have a playlist of your favorite sing-along songs, for your fall-back. If you play an instrument or want to learn how, now’s a good time to learn as any.
- Take a walk, listen to music that makes you happy, try meditation, or prayer…the activity must be something that you find pleasing and recharging. Take 10 to 20 minutes, if you can.
When you’ve recharged and finished, approach the issue again with your refreshed outlook, and observe your thoughts on the situation. It’ll be quite possible you moved into a new position that can help you find other ways of addressing the matter, so you can deal with it decisively and be able to move forward.
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