I called my bestie sobbing, “I don’t know what to do!”
I was overwhelmed and feeling hopeless and trapped. (This could have been any of the 1000 times I call her, I can’t even tell you for what anymore.)
She quietly listened and then said firmly and gently, “You don’t need to decide right now.”
There is so much wisdom to this advice.
First of all, when we are overwhelmed our bodies are in a stress response and our minds can’t work properly. We should never make decisions in this state. Let me tell you why.
Our prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain responsible for executive functions like: how we think, reason, learn, plan, concentrate, remember, judge, and control ourselves) is inhibited during a stress response.
It’s actually not possible to make a decision at this time because during a stress response the amygdala (a very old part of the brain which is the seat of negative emotions like fear, aggression, and anxiety) takes over.
The best thing to do when you’re feeling triggered and overwhelmed is to let yourself off the hook until your body and mind are calm. No good decisions can be made in this state.
This is tough because the natural urge when we are triggered is to DO something about it immediately to make it stop. We are wired to want to push away, stop, and relieve difficult emotions, because…well, they’re difficult.
The most helpful thing for us in these moments is not to focus so much on fixing the stressor, but to learn ways to relieve the stress inside of us instead.
There will always be stressors in our lives and we will make ourselves crazy trying to fix them all, especially because we can’t change other people (wah!!!!), predict unforeseen tragedies, or stop life from happening. This is life, and it’s all a part of it.
But we can siphon off stress with deep breathing, a little yoga, or Mindfully observing our emotions to become far more resilient at handling life’s challenges as they arise.
*As an aside, this is one of the reasons I LOVE yoga so much because we create “mini stressors” through the yoga poses and then we practice keeping our minds and bodies calm as we work through them. Doing yoga, meditation, and deep breathing as a regular practice strengthens our “calming” muscle so that it’s works for us faster and more effectively when we need it. Click here to learn more about yoga with me.
Lastly, the wisdom in her advice is the simplest: stepping back gives you perspective.
When we are triggered we can’t see clearly. As I stated earlier, this is a fact. Our emotions take over, and we may see things through the lens of conditioning, trauma, or our past experiences instead of how they truly are.
Stepping back can give us perspective to help us see more accurately and make better decisions (if a decision needs to be made at all).
I’m curious about your thoughts on this. Personally, now whenever I’m upset I remind myself, “I don’t need to decide right now.” Take a deep breath and immediately feel calmer.