In the middle of a savage zombie invasion, your heart beat increases, adrenaline flows through your body, and your muscles stiffen in anticipation of a possible impact to the body.
Luckily for most of us we won’t face the zombie apocalypse anytime soon. But sometimes we can experience this same stress response in our daily lives. One big problem, or a barrage of smaller ones, add up and overload both mind and body. While we can recover from a day or two of such stress, week after week of “fight or flight” can leave us feeling overwhelmed and hopeless.
Why does this happen? I know I’m not the only one waiting on hold forever, in endless line, or getting their paperwork wet in the rain that curses the fact that they got out of bed this morning. On days like this, I don’t laugh off my over-reaction to muddy dog prints on the floor, I yell at the dog and angrily wipe them up while silently contemplating if anyone I know would like a new pet.
Recognizing this build-up before it gets to the blow-out point can be a lifesaver. A good way to do this is to teach yourself to take a break each time you notice the worry, frustration, and anxiety are building up. When you feel too busy to stop, that’s a good sign you need to slow down.
Like any other skill, it takes practice. There are several strategies you can use to do this. One is to set times during the day to check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling. If for example, you notice at your 10:00 break that you are feeling worried, overwhelmed or upset, you can take a few minutes to do some deep breathing, put on some fun music or take a walk to change your focus. If you’re feeling fine, you can simply continue with your day.
You can also teach yourself to stop for a few minutes whenever you feel stressed. This is harder to do, as you have to consciously realize that you are feeling stressed. Once you recognize the signals – shallow breathing, stiff shoulders or back, headache, tired eyes, etc, you can take a few moments to recover. Close your eyes and simply sit still for a few minutes. If your mind is racing too much, count backwards from 50 to 1 or 100 to 1 until you are breathing deeper and feeling calmer.
Amazingly even 1-2 minutes of deep breathing can improve your mood. You’ll find longer lasting relief by taking a 10-15 minute break, but any break at all will help you refocus your attention, breaking the cycle of worry, complaining and anger you feel.
Because it’s hard to think of ideas to break your negative thinking while it’s happening, here are few ideas:
- Relax. Close your eyes. This rests your eyes and your mind. In the fluorescent jungle the lights can dry our eyes and cause eyestrain bringing on a headache. Taking a few minutes to rest can stop a headache before it starts.
- Refocus. Keep some pictures, quotes or other inspiration material around. Take a few minutes away from what you’re doing. Let yourself just “be” for a moment. Even 5 minutes of refocusing time can make a huge difference.
- Change perspective. Play some music. Classics can be soothing and calming, while rock, pop or disco are upbeat and energetic. Chair dancing to some fun tunes can liven up almost any task.
- Wake up. Get some air. It’s surprising what a little fresh air can do for you. You’ll breathe deeper, blink a little in the bright light, get your blood flowing by walking around and go back to work feel much more refreshed.
- Fun. Do something fun for a few minutes. Talk to a coworker, share a joke, read the comics or watch a cartoon on your MP3. Doing something you enjoy can lighten your mood and when you return your hurdles won’t seem insurmountable anymore.
- Get some support. Talk to a friend. Give them a call or send an email. Hearing a friendly voice or venting a little can take the stress down a level. Knowing someone cares helps you feel loved and reminds you of your strengths.