By Gregori Savva, Sep 2 2015 06:41PM
When I find myself experiencing more stress than usual, or I am confronted by someone who is angry, I have noticed how quickly the pressure builds up and results in defensiveness or impulsive behaviours. Reactions such these seem to happen automatically without control and is usually the outcome of a ‘fight and flight response’ triggered under stress, but if it’s not kept in check it can lead to anxiety, helplessness and frustration. I might lose faith in myself or feel unable to trust my instincts.
So in a fast moving situation it helps if you have a brief moment to reflect before you react.
I have found it useful over the years to create a pause where I can step back in the preceding moments before I react to a crisis, a confrontation or a serious problem that needs solving. This pause may last a matter of milliseconds, creating a slim window of opportunity for me to stand back and observe events, before I make decision. This means I get to settle any intense feelings and slow down racing thoughts, before I act This is why I help clients with reflective practice at Counselling Twickenham This enables them to pause before they get caught up in events and panic or have an angry outburst.
I use the word ‘act’ rather than ‘react’, for good reason. In one scenario, where I am acting, I have an internal frame of reference, so that anything I do becomes a conscious choice, by acting with self-awareness. In another scenario, where I am reacting, I have an external frame of reference, where I am merely responding to events as they happen, because I feel dependent on the actions of others before I respond. So this pause is vital. What this pause offers me is a gap where I can take a breath, collect my thoughts and take a balanced view the situation from a wider perspective. It’s as if I have created two states of mind – the experiencing self – the bit of me which feels what’s going on – and the observing self – the bit of me that is observing what is going on.
That’s all very well – I hear my client’s say – easier said than done. If I could do it, I would. And they’re right: it’s not easy because it takes time to train yourself to regulate emotional states effectively. But there is a simple enough technique that everyone can learn how to create a small pause under pressure, before they react. This is a simple breathing exercise which is designed to help people who experience impulsive reactions to stress, anxiety, panic attacks and anger.
Start by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth with a gentle easy rhythm, not too deep and not too slow, but just right. Ensure that as you inhale your belly pushes out, and as you exhale your belly pulls back in again. This means you are using your diaphragm and full lung capacity, without under-breathing or over-breathing. While you are breathing focus your attention entirely on the sound and sensation of your breath, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and feelings. If your mind does begin to wander or get distracted by thoughts, simply turn your attention back to the sound and sensation of your breath. Slowly, as you become attuned to this state of relaxed concentration try to shift the focus of your attention slightly, on the gap between the in-breath and the out-breath – the moment your diaphragm becomes fully extended and is just about to bounce back again.
You will notice there is a momentary pause. Do nothing else but notice that pause. It will create no more than a fleeting gap in which you become aware of the silence and the break in motion. This teaches the brain to find the necessary gap we need before initiating the next series of actions or events. At first you are only training the brain to notice there is a gap. Very soon you will be able to use it as an intervention in a crisis, as you step back, take a breath and allow yourself to pause before making the next choice. It allows your conscious awareness to exercise freewill, rather than react unconsciously and impulsively