We’ve all had those times when life feels out of control. Intense demands at work, chaos at home, and next thing you know you’re completely overwhelmed.
Scientists tell us that in those times of intense stress, a part of our brain called the amygdala gets triggered, and we shift into “fight, flight or freeze” mode. It’s what we’re wired to do when confronted with threats: adrenaline flows through our system, and we either attack the threat, run away from the threat, or freeze like a deer in the headlights. Our stress response floods the thinking parts of our brain — such as the prefrontal cortex — which are slower to assess threats and respond. We can’t think straight.
In those times when I’m the most stressed, I pull out my “Damage Control Tool” — four statements that help contain my reaction and calm me down. I take a few deep breaths, then say these words out loud. I adapted these phrases from Laurel Mellin, author of the book “Wired for Joy.”
1) Don’t Make It Worse
The first thing to tell yourself is, “Don’t make it worse.” Most of us know what behaviors we do when stressed that end up making things worse. Remind yourself: Don’t. Don’t have another drink. Don’t say things you’ll regret later. Don’t quit your job. Don’t finish off all the ice cream. Don’t go on facebook to see what your ex-boyfriend is doing now.
Your goal in this step is to minimize the harm. Contain the damage. Don’t make it worse.
2) Do Not Judge (Self or Others)
We tend to think in black-and-white terms when we’re triggered. The parts of our brain responsible for higher-level thinking such as evaluation and strategizing are not functioning effectively. So we start to judge. We say things to ourselves like, “He’s such a jerk!” or “I can’t believe I said that — I’m an idiot!” We judge ourselves and we judge others.
Do not judge. This is not the time to evaluate the situation. Evaluate it later, when you’re not feeling so overwhelmed. Right now, tell yourself, “It is what it is.” Let it go.
3) Know This Will Pass
In this step, tell yourself that this will pass. It won’t always be this bad. You’ve been in difficult situations before, and you’ve gotten through them. It won’t stay this stressful forever. You will find a way to cope. Know this will pass.
4) One Step At A Time
When in stress response, we tend to make poor decisions. This is not the time to think about the next year of your life, the next month, or even the next day. Just ask yourself, “What’s the next step? What should I do right now?” And then go do it. Take that one step. Then decide what the next step should be and do it. At this point, you don’t need to think beyond the present. Anything beyond the present feels overwhelming. Just take one step at a time.
These four simple statements have helped many of my clients to greatly improve their response to stress. It’s helped those who have lost a loved one to make it through the intense grief. It’s helped bulimics to stop binge eating, couples to stop fighting, and worriers to stop panicking.
The Damage Control Tool doesn’t solve long-term problems that create stress in our lives. But it does provide containment so that we will be able to solve those problems.
So when your life gets crazy, remember these four phrases. You won’t regret it.
Question: What do you think? Does it seem like these phrases could be helpful for you to use when stressed? You can leave a comment by clicking here.