Blog Short #2: Train your brain to handle unexpected stress.
Welcome to Monday Blog Shorts – ideas to make even Monday a good day! Every Monday I share a short article with you about a strategy you can use, or new facts or info that informs you, or a new idea that inspires you . My wish is to give you something to think about in the week ahead. Let’s dig in!
What do you do when something out of the ordinary happens like dropping a glass of milk that crashes all over the kitchen floor, or your engine light goes on while you’re driving, or you forget to bring the materials you need for the presentation you’re giving as soon as you get to work?
The first thing that usually happens is a reflexive reaction of “Arrgh!” (or something much stronger), followed by a thought train of resistance to the event. You think things like “I really can’t handle this today!”, or maybe “Well that’s a surprise isn’t it? Don’t things ALWAYS go wrong for me?”, or if you’re feeling fragile you might just burst into tears, or just go on an angry rant using the worst curse words you can think of.
I’ve done all these and then some, and likely you have too.
The real problem is not that something happened that you didn’t expect, but rather the emotional resistance you have to accepting it and getting on with it.
There’s something you can do to turn that resistance around, and it isn’t just thinking positive thoughts. It’s gaining some power over your mind and emotions by training yourself (and also your brain) to respond in a way that accepts the interruption and allows you to work with it rather than resist it.
The first thing to do if you have a moment (which you do even if you think you don’t), is to do one round of square breathing. You can get the handout for this here. Only takes a couple of minutes.
What this does is break up the fight or flight response by walking back the physiological stress you’re experiencing. As you go through the routine, you’ll get your heartbeat and breathing back under control, while also reducing tension in your body. This has the effect of calming your mind and getting some mental space. You become more present and can start to focus.
The second thing is to start a self-talk routine that you’ve set up ahead of time for these type situations. The self-talk uses a series of statements you’ve already created and use and reuse each time these situations occur. Here’s some I use:
Things happen. It’s normal. I can ride with it.
I don’t need to resist this, just deal with it.
I can handle this situation without going off the deep end.
I’ve got a good brain! I can solve this problem.
Just relax into it and shift to problem-solving.
By using your self-talk, you can make a shift from resisting the problem to figuring out how to solve the problem.
The third thing is to throw yourself completely into the resolution whatever it may be. To do this, move slowly and deliberately. Break it down in small steps if need be. Stay present.
For example, if you dropped a glass of milk on the floor, very deliberately begin the process of cleaning it up. Pick up the large pieces of glass first, then use paper towels to get up the liquid, then sweep up the rest of the glass, vacuum if you think you need to, and run a mop over it. Done!
Do each step with your full attention as if you’re in slow motion. DO NOT RUSH! It’s important to go slow. Watch yourself as you do it.
The deliberate observation and focus on each action will absorb your attention which will calm you. Paradoxically, you’ll actually get it done faster.
The more you use this 3-step method, the more you’ll train your brain and psyche to handle stressful situations without resistance and emotional reactivity. Eventually you won’t need to use square breathing and maybe even the self-talk because you’ve trained your brain to react calmly and effectively to adversity and challenge.
It feels good to get on top of it. Try it out!
See you next week!
All my best,