What do you notice about your responses when you are stressed?
How much are they tinged with emotion vs rational commentary?
Notice how you might be short with people, impatient, blunt, perhaps angry?
We are built that way.
Being overly busy and dealing with difficult situations are our modern day ‘tigers in the jungle’.
Our brains are tuned to thinking they are facing tigers or fighting fires day-in-day-out.
And there’s an evolutionary reason why we act the way we do. We were built that way.
How the brain works.
Thanks to studies in the field of neuroscience we now know quite a lot about how the brain responds.
The pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is an area at the front of your brain that manages your in-the-moment processing and rational thought. Your working memory if you like.
However, it only has a finite amount of room and can easily get overwhelmed. If you chuck too much stuff at yourself, your brain will perceive it as a threat. Why? Because at times of overload your PFC will refer to your limbic system (the emotional part of the brain) to work out what your response should be.
The limbic system is hugely powerful and will ready your body with all sorts of emotions and hormones to deal with different situations. And guess what. It is particularly primed for sniffing out threats (such as stress). It’s kind of like its default mechanism.
Hence why everyone of us will be compelled to respond in an emotional way when faced with something stressful. It’s perfectly natural.
So what can we do about it?
Well, the very best thing you can do is pause or wait until you’ve allowed your rational mind to kick back in and help you work out the consequences of your planned actions.
Here are 5 ways to get things more under control:
1. Take a breath.
Deep breathing helps engage your relaxation response and aids in giving your brain space to think rationally.
2. Take a break.
How often have you ‘slept on something’ to find the way forward is different from what you originally imagined? How often does that email you wish to send get changed and worded differently once you’ve come back to it after some space and reflection? How often does going for a walk or removing yourself from a situation help you better deal with it?
3. Give your brain some space.
Our brains work incredibly fast but they only work sequentially. They cannot cope with lots of concurrent information. In the midst of all that complexity, our brains are surprisingly a little bit simple.
4. Tackle the hard wiring.
Furthermore, hard wiring we have developed over the years often taints our view when something similar comes up again.
The hard wiring is the brain’s way of automating stuff and trying to deal with something more efficiently but it isn’t necessarily always the right way. It can be built on past experiences you haven’t always responded to in the way you would like.
Hard wiring is in essence our habits. So if you have a particular habit that appears when you respond to a certain situation that you want to change, try stopping and thinking about it first! Give yourself space to respond differently.
5. Pause the play button.
Taking some space and pausing for a bit really helps you generate a better response and is the simplest, most effective thing you can do for yourself when feeling overwhelmed. It dampens your stress response, allows you to create some new wiring to old problems and reduces the level of internal agitation.
The brain needs space to work well for you and to detune itself from its default settings.
So when feeling under pressure press the pause button and stop that compulsion to respond emotionally.
Check yourself even if just for a moment.
Give yourself time to process a better response.
Pause that impulsive, potentially unruly emotional soundtrack in favour of playing the more calming melody of your rational mind.
It works, try it.
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Originally published at medium.com