The Power of Pausing When You’re Stressed

Take a good hard look at what’s eating you

photo by David Preston, Unsplash

We all feel stress at times —that’s a given. But realizing this probably doesn’t make you feel much better.

I’ve long argued that some stress is probably a good thing. Hell, some of my best work is done when I’m feeling under the wire. But too much stress is not good for anybody.

In the past couple of years, I’ve unfortunately suffered from the most intense stress of my life and have even experienced a few panic attacks.

Not fun stuff.

But it’s taught me a few things.

Where does your stress come from?

For me, it hits me from all angles:

  1. Thinking too much about the future.
  2. Thinking too much about the present.
  3. Thinking too much about the past.

From the sound of it, you might think I’m an emergency room surgeon or on the front lines somewhere overseas — but I’m not.

Lately, I’ve been sitting at home writing my doctoral dissertation full-time. It’s not easy, but it’s also not life or death. And you probably have a harder job than me.

Anyway, this morning I started worrying too much about some deadlines and it began to overwhelm me. I started to freak out and feel intense remorse for not addressing this stuff weeks ago.

How could I have let so much work pile up?

But, out of nowhere, a thought came to me:

Calm the f*** down.
Yes, it’s already March 14.
And you know what?
There’s nothing you can do about it.

There is power in pausing.

It took 2 seconds to observe the things that were bothering me and see them for what they were: Things that I can’t do much about right now.

But the real insight came after I prayed for more clarity— and I’m an atheist.

But you know what?

It worked.

The damn prayer worked. I don’t care how it worked, either.

It forced me to surrender. I began to realize that I don’t have all the answers and that’s OK.

I have today. I have right now.

And it became clear to me that, despite the two big complaints in my life, I have 1 million things to be grateful for.

Acceptance is often the answer.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I sometimes remember to make a gratitude list. It helps me put my problems in perspective.

Today, I thought about it after the stress left me. But I did one just in case.

I wrote down the 10 things that are most important to me (the majority of which had to do with my sobriety or my family). I quickly noticed that none of the items on my list had anything to do with the stuff I was so stressed about.

In other words, the greatness of my life is not dependent on any of the crap I’m stressed out about.

I know I’m OK.

Sometimes, stressing is good but it doesn’t mean it’s always the right things to do.

Not every thought I have is an enlightened one.

My thoughts are often debilitating. They’re often based on irrational fears. They’re often harmful or useless.

Today, I realized that stressing wasn’t going to help me.

And that’s the power of pausing when stressed.

“There are at least a billion people on earth at this moment who would consider their prayers answered if they could trade places with you…. To have spent this day free from some terrifying encounter with chaos is to be lucky.”
- Sam Harris