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Pump the Brakes- How to Stay in the Game During Stressful Times

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

Are you like me? I consider myself pretty smooth, calm and emotionally regulated. I usually stay above the fray and stay out of the movie. But I am human, and stressful situations or emotional events can affect me from time to time. Whether it’s a work event, home issues, or just my mind going to dark places, it can be hard to maintain emotional regulation when I am in the thick of it.

These last few weeks have proven to be just that. From some significant stressors with my teenager, to the world events and culminating with shotting in Maine, I hit my breaking point. My anxiety and stress were in full force. It caused me to be less productive, to be more on edge, and unable to concentrate or sleep. I saw myself being more reactive in the moment, my emotions were at the surface, and my life balance was off. When I started to think up rash decisions that were based on emotion and not fact, I knew I had to hard-stop. Here is what I did to regain emotional regulation:

  • Lean into it: I opened myself up to feel all my feelings and vulnerability. I did not try to push them away or resist them- I know that processing these emotions is critical to regaining balance.

  • Give time and space to process: In order to feel my vulnerability, I needed time and space. Not so easy in our busy worlds of career and family, but little breaks can add up to strong processing. Take the time to journal, discover what is a fact or story in your mind, or take a walk to clear your head in nature.

  • Get perspective: When you give yourself time and space, you will gain perspective. One of my mentors always told me to, “Stay out of the movie”. When you can put some distance between you and the problem, your thinking will become more rational and fact-based, and the right path will become clear.

  • Find your safe place and safe people: Do you know what your safe space is? For me it’s my home. For others it could be a favorite park, a beach or a loved-one's place. And, knowing who your safe people are who you can freely express yourself to can make all the difference. Is it a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a life coach or therapist? Whoever they are, this is the time to leverage them. They will support, challenge and guide you.

  • Take a breath: When you are feeling out of control, breathing exercises can help you regulate and calm down. Try box breathing, 4-6-8 breathing, or yoga breathing to help you. It matters less about what kind of breathing exercise you try, but more that you concentrate while you are doing it.

  • Self-Care and Grace: And above all, please remember to give yourself all the love you can. Be kind to yourself and don’t forget to care for yourself. Be gentle to you.... and give grace when your emotions get the better of you. Remember, only speak to yourself as you would a small child.

As you know by now, I am a huge proponent of using self-coaching questions to guide your journaling and thinking. Especially in times of stress and anxiety, targeted questions can help you root out your internal stories vs. facts, help you gain perspective, and get to more regulated decision-making sooner. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • How do I want to show up in this situation? How are you showing up now?

  • What is the hidden positive in what is happening now?

  • What is the worst that could happen?

  • Where is this feeling coming from?

  • How could your thoughts be a thought error?

  • Is this a fact or a thought? Do you absolutely know this?

  • What stories do I have about the facts of the event?

  • ·What would my future self say about this event and how I am showing up?

My stress and anxiety are more in check now. My teenager has a good path forward, and I am channeling my emotions about the state of the world by reaching out to those I know who are impacted, offering support and being there for them. I am also supporting local and international agencies that are helping those in need. And although events around the world and in my own family still stress me, I am leaning on my tools to stay in the game. I feel in control and part of the solution. I hope these tools will help you too.

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