How to Counteract Negative Stress With a Pause

Most of us are going to deal with stress on a daily basis. Some stress, like exercise and learning new and challenging things is going to leave us feeling accomplished. 

Other stress, that of the negative kind leaves us feeling overwhelmed, tired and oftentimes grumpy or short fused. This is the kind of stress that for a lot of us takes consistent work to keep at a maintainable level, a Steady level if you will. 

A negative stress scenario might look like the following. Work has us stressed out about a deadline our boss put on us. We feel overwhelmed when trying to process how we’re going to get everything done, then we take these feelings home with us. Something happens that triggers us and we react. Not necessarily to what just happened, but to the feelings we have from the stress caused by work. But here is the kicker, the reaction makes the stress amplify. It’s almost like pouring gasoline on a fire. 

So how do we prevent this? The simple answer is we get better at not reacting. Easier said than done, right? Well, one strategy is to take a very brief moment to pause.  Yes, pause. Instead of focusing on “not reacting” we are focusing on the 5-10 seconds that come right after whatever triggered our stress reaction. We hold onto that time, ask ourselves if this is something that we want to get upset about, or if there is a way to shift our focus to something more pleasant. Some people even count backwards from 10 to 1. 

What we find when we take this pause, is we become less reactive. In doing so we eliminate amplifying feelings of stress every chance we get. This may not seem like a big deal, but it really is. Stress compounds on itself. The more we add to it, the harder it becomes to work through. 

Try this next time you're in a situation where you feel you’re going to react negatively because you’re stressed out. When whatever it is happens, take a deep breath in and count to three, ask yourself “How would I want myself to act if I wasn’t stressed out?”, then let your breath out slowly. See if it helps give you just a bit more of a leg up on your stress.

What are some scenarios you think taking a brief pause before reacting can help reduce your negative stress levels?


Image Credit: Brett Jordan