The long hot spell in the UK has well and truly broken and after the very humid weather, rain feels like a welcome relief. However it also made me wonder how parents looking after their children are faring. It can be hard when everyone is stuck indoors and ideas about what to do with yourself can begin to flag after a week or two of the holidays. Boredom and frustration can lead to tempers flaring.
In this situation – as with many situations in our lives when we feel ourselves being reactive to events – it can help to “Practice the Pause”.
This means stopping to give ourselves time to think and to calm ourselves down.
When we’re under stress the part of our brain that is active is the amygdala. This enables us to respond to threat and to survive by giving us the “flight or fight” response. You'll notice the amygdala at work when you react without thinking to pain or a loud noise. The reaction comes before the thought. It’s very useful in life or death situations.
However, in our day to day relationships, it can lead to us behaving in ways that we may later regret. We may become angry and trade insults with our nearest and dearest. We may become cross with ourselves and behave in self-punishing ways. We may withdraw, sulk or be unpredictable.
We need to give ourselves time to activate our thinking, rational brain. Our rational brain takes slightly longer to react than the amygdala, but with practice we can become more calm and measured in our lives by learning to pause.
A beautiful example of this is given by Kimi Werner, a champion free diver and spear fisher. She describes how she was in the ocean preparing to dive when she was approached by a great white shark. Instead of allowing her amygdala control – which would have had her desperately trying to out swim the shark – she gave herself time and reasoned that, if she swam towards it, she would communicate that she was a predator, not prey. You can see the result on YouTube – she swims alongside the shark holding its dorsal fin.
So “practising the pause” means giving yourself a moment or two to think. Try to notice when you’re beginning to feel stressed and give yourself time.
Examples of how you can do this include:
- Slowing your breathing down or use the “SOS” breathing. Sigh-Out-Slowly
- In a meeting, or at a meal, take a sip of water before you reply to someone
- Ask them for more information before you respond
- Go to a different room. Locking yourself in the bathroom might help.
- Go for a walk
- Have a tea break
If you are feeling upset and allow yourself some time, the following exercise may help. It is, appropriately for the UK weather, called “RAIN”.
- RECOGNITION. Be honest with yourself about your feelings and thoughts - even if you do not like anxiety, anger, jealousy, sadness, negative or critical thoughts.
- ALLOWANCE. There is no point resisting or fighting difficult thoughts and feelings. That is like trying to stand up to waves and being knocked over by them. A different choice is to dive through them. You may not like them but you accept them in that moment. Non-resistance brings a softening to the situation.
- INVESTIGATION. You can begin to notice what is happening with your body and your thoughts. How is your body reacting? What are the feelings, can you name them in detail? What are your thoughts telling you? Is there a deeper truth below the situation about yourself that allows you to be kind to yourself? Is there a cause you can identify? Is there a difference you can make in this situation to help yourself and others?
- NON IDENTIFICATION. Remember, you are more than this situation in which you find yourself. If you are angry in this moment, that does not make you a perpetually angry person. You are simply you. Your brain is reacting in the moment. You do not need to be fused with your thoughts and emotions.
Might this help? Please comment below if you have any ideas for ways to give yourself a practical pause in the midst of a storm.