Sometimes the hardest thing to learn to do is to do nothing. It’s the art and skill of pause and reset.
We don’t always have to act or react. When things seem to be spinning out of control or you feel the rise of anxiety that screams at you to DO something, your best bet might be to do nothing. I understand how hard this can be, but it will get easier as you practice.
Why not take a cue from the British: Keep Calm and Make Tea.
There’s an interesting and probably exaggerated story about the British army stopping for a tea break during critical moments of WWII. This often infuriated American soldiers who wanted to continue to pursue the enemy or take more ground before dark. While I doubt British soldiers sat down in the midst of a battle to make a cup of English Breakfast tea, there are many photographs of them enjoying their tea time.
It reminds me of Psalm 23 where God promises us a table in the presence of our enemies. A place of calm in the midst of utter chaos, rest during a battle, Sabbath no matter where we are.
I am also amusedly reminded of the character Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He’s socially awkward but has learned from his mother what to do when guests and friends are upset or in the midst of emotional turmoil. He cannot relate to their emotional state, but sensing something is wrong he pops up and runs to the kitchen, “I’ll make tea!” He has learned at least one strategy to use when he is faced with the what-to-do-when-you-don’t-know-what-to-do dilemma.
It’s best not to be quick to rush ahead, give advice, try to solve the problem, or flee when we are feeling overwhelmed. But maybe brewing a pot of tea isn’t such a bad idea!
Our best recourse when there seems to be no good recourse? Stop. Rest. Pause. Reset.
David, in 2 Samuel 16, was literally running for his life, crushed by deep emotional drama in his family, and physically exhausted. The Bible says when he and all the people with him arrived at their destination, he refreshed himself. The word refreshed here is a Hebrew word that deals with both breath and soul. He didn’t just refresh his body, he refreshed his soul — his emotional and mental well-being. We call this self-care.
Proactive is always better than reactive
Why not create a Pause and Reset Protocol for yourself? In other words, develop a strategy for what to do when you don’t know what to do. Wouldn’t that be helpful during those dark days or when anxiety leaves your mind a muddled mess? You would have the practice to turn to, tried and true strategies that work for you. Because, when we are in the midst of stress, grief, anxiety, or when the sudden blues catch us off guard, we can’t think of those strategies.
Having a plan ahead of time gives us an anchor in the storm, a hand of reality to grasp when the lies in our head are turning our world upside down.
**If stress and overwhelm are your constant companions perhaps it’s time to stop managing stress and giving your life away to stress —maybe it’s time to get rid of it!**
Tips for creating your Pause and Reset Protocol (aka the What-to-Do-When-You-Don’t-Know-What-to-Do Protocol)
- Take a shower. There’s something about washing away the anxiety that threatens to take hold and engaging in mundane activities like showering that allows your thoughts to flow away from what was bothering you.
- Clean. I’ve always known that cleaning is one of my go-to’s for when I am out of sorts. It’s something I can do even when tears flow or anger rages. Releasing that physical energy helps release some of the emotional energy as well. A feeling of accomplishment by tackling the dirty grout or smudged windows can be enough of a reset for your thoughts to help you move from feeling helpless to finding solutions.
- Write/Journal. My thoughts can keep me captive until I release them. Writing them down is like opening the door for a caged bird. The worry, the fear, the negativity seem to fly away and leave room to refill with peace, joy, and trust.
- Meditate. Taking ten minutes to sit on the floor and concentrate on your breathing can bring you back in alignment, or at least bring your anxiety levels down enough for you to recognize what triggered it.
- Phone a trusted friend. Someone who will let you talk, not judge, and not try to fix. Someone who is kind and a good listener. Someone who will create space for you to be vulnerable. If you don’t have access to this person try a spiritual director or a life coach.
- Exercise or Dance. Movement can reset your body’s rhythms in ways we don’t fully understand but it’s certainly a way to take your mind off your worries and to release some serotonin into your bloodstream.
- Refrain from making big decisions. My husband recently had a surgical procedure and after the anesthesia wore off the recovery room nurse advised him to not engage in important activities or make financial decisions. When we’re not ourselves we exhibit poor judgment.
- Less is more. Do something simple like take a walk, read a book, watch your favorite comedy, drink tea, or play with your dog. Don’t go overboard and train for a 5K or eat a gallon of ice cream. A little self-care goes a long way.
- Encourage yourself. This might mean a pep talk, reviewing old journal entries that are positive and upbeat, or creating some positive affirmations to repeat until you feel more like yourself. Marie Forleo suggests you use your own name when talking to yourself. This creates a distancing from your problems and acts as a friendly voice outside of your chaos. Example: Mary, you are smart, you can figure this out!
- Help someone else. The best way to stop focusing on our own problems is to find someone else that needs help. Typically, we will see that our situation is not as dire as we thought.
- Experience nature. Take a walk at the park, go for a swim, dip your toes in the river, sit on a park bench, watch birds in your backyard. Nature has a way of calming and resetting us. Feeling blue? Maybe blue skies will lift your mood!
I’d love to hear about your Pause and Reset Protocol. If you don’t have one why not get started on one right now? Then, when you have one of those days where you don’t know what to do, well…you’ll know what to do!