When I was moving a new roommate into my apartment last month, I was overwhelmed to the point of dysfunction. I couldn't carry any more trash bags, I couldn't unpack any more glassware, I was shaking and panicked, overcome with the refrain of "what do I do, what do I do, why can't I do it." Nearly paralyzed by the feeling, I did what felt the most reasonable: nothing. I sat in a chair and stared ahead in the silence for 5 or 10 minutes.
What I ultimately discovered was my own "Reset Object (Debug)" button. I finally was able to go through my to-do list, continue being helpful for the move-in process, and resume just being a resourceful human being. I found my personal reset button, and since it turns out doing nothing is a tried-and-true way to refresh, I felt great and healthy about my discovery.
"When you're in stress paralysis, inside a panicky voice is saying, 'I gotta do something, I gotta do something!' but the longer you stay in that state, the less likely it is you're going to do anything useful," says clinical psychologist Helene Brenner, PhD. "The first step, then, is to do nothing. Stop running, both literally and inside yourself. Take stock of what's happening inside you, in your emotions, in the feelings and sensations going on in your body, how confused and scattered you feel. Then take a deep breath, and determine what you're dealing with."
Life coach Susie Moore agrees that there's value in stopping to take a minute to yourself, and she adds that physically separating yourself from the situation can help. "When I had a frantic move day recently, I just shut the door on my bathroom for a few minutes and lied down on the floor, palms facing up. I heard my breath coming in and out and soothed myself," she says. And the feelings don't have to be limited to situations surrounding a move. Let's say you're feeling overwhelmed at work. In this case, try to scope out an unused conference room, put your headphones in, sit in silence, and inhale and exhale. No conference room available? Take a walk outside or go sit in your car and do the same. "If you’re out and about, you can go and sit in a bathroom stall quietly," Moore says. "Calm your body and mind by giving yourself a mini massage on your hands, lower back, and temples."
"When we reach a level of stress that is so intense we feel like we are spinning, imbalanced, or have a physical reaction like nausea as a result, the best thing we can do is ground ourselves." —Serena Poon, reiki master
But what if you absolutely, positively, cannot for some unfortunate reason stop and pause? Wellness expert, chef, nutritionist, and reiki master Serena Poon says going back to the basics of breath work to tackle the issue is key. "When we reach a level of stress that is so intense we feel like we are spinning, imbalanced, or have a physical reaction like nausea as a result, the best thing we can do is ground ourselves," she says. "An easy way to do this is the 4-4-4 breathing method. You take a deep breath in through your mouth to the count of 4, hold for 4 counts and then exhale through your nose to the count of 4," Poon says. Doing this three times in a row to help bring yourself back to the present moment is a great answer to how to manage stress.
That said, we can't factory-reset all our problems away, since, you know, we're human. Some feelings of stress vibrate higher than a single session of mindful breathing or few minutes of doing nothing can treat. So while these hacks for knowing how to manage stress can be helpful, they may well not fix every issue you run into. Just be sure to remember to give yourself a break, and when possible, keep moving forward.
"If you can choose to face your feelings—even fear—squarely, without panicking, you'll discover that while they may sometimes be painful, they aren't going to get 'stuck' or paralyze you," Dr. Brenner says. "Rather, when you face the things you are trying to avoid, you will move through your feelings, and your feelings will move you to the right actions. Once you feel, you can deal."
And by separating ourselves from the situation, allowing a moment to stop go-go-going, and focusing on simple acts like breathing, we're giving ourselves permission to just be. So, allow yourself to be, and then press play—you just found your reset button.
Now that cleared up on how to manage stress by doing nothing, breathing and/or being mindful, check out niksen, the Dutch art of doing nothing. And if you're still hyped up from a fight, here's how to calm down your mind and body.
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