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In Times of Great Stress, Reach for the Pause Button

In Times of Great Stress, Reach for the Pause ButtonSo I decided to move across the country and, not surprisingly, it’s turned my whole world upside down. While I’m micromanaging every detail and packing boxes when I go to bed instead of counting sheep, my anxiety and depression think they’ve won the Super Bowl.

I’m taking this opportunity to experiment with my attitude. I want to find out whether a person can learn to be laid-back. Of course, stressful things happen to everyone, but we can change the way we handle those situations. This week, I discovered the pause button.

Now that I’m moving thousands of miles, I finally have something to be anxious about. Moving is stressful and moving across the country is absurd. Trying to decide what I’ll need right now and what I can wait a month before seeing again is nerve-wracking. And let’s not forget clothing to pack. We’re traveling through myriad states that have serious winter weather and we’re ending up in a place where the high is 70 degrees from January to March.

Add to that all my fears about failure. That hopeless feeling telling me that things will go wrong, I haven’t taken everything into account, and I’ll never recover from the setbacks. Enter my depression.

The future is unsure and I have so much to do. What’s the logical step here? How do I keep from riding off the rails? Hit the pause button and check in with myself.

Sometimes we bite off a little more than we can chew. Instead of pausing and checking in with our emotions we barrel full speed ahead hoping everything will be all right if we keep busy. Before we know it, we’re overwhelmed and everything life seems increasingly negative.

Any major life change has the potential to send us off the rails (e.g., buying a house, starting a family, leaving a job, or finishing school). At some point you may wonder if you can handle the changes. This is when it’s time to take a step back and focus on your feelings instead of what’s next.

While I’m slaving away packing up our apartment, I feel weighed down by the fact that one can do so much, step back and see they’ve actually accomplished very little in the grand scheme of packing a whole home. What have I been doing all day? Will this ever get done?

Time to push pause. First I ask myself, What am I really feeling right now? Anxiety. Stress. Pressure.

Am I excited about moving to California? Is that still what I want? Absolutely.

So it is possible that some of this anxiety is excitement? I mean, they feel very similar when you break them down: racing heartbeat, sweaty palms and increased anticipation.

There is the possibility that I’m feeling all my anxiety and none of my excitement, but I’m really looking forward to relocating.

Am I happy? Actually, I am. I’m very happy. I don’t think my depression even has any business being here. I’m in a great place. I’m excited about life.

Knowing this helped me put aside the stress I was feeling in the moment and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Life wasn’t a total wash, things just weren’t great in the moment.

Maybe it’s not laid-back to get stressed out about moving — I don’t know, I’ve never been laid-back. But I’m pretty sure if I can get the hang of this pause button, I’ll feel a lot more confident I can handle what like throws at me.

Before stress runs you off the rails, sometimes the only solution is to press pause and check in with your feelings before it snowballs. Your mood can be salvaged, you just have to take time for yourself. Checking in allows us to experience unpleasant feelings, like stress, without getting too caught up in our negative emotions. How’s that for a silver lining?

In Times of Great Stress, Reach for the Pause Button

Sarah Newman, MA, MFA

Sarah Newman is the managing editor and associate publisher of PsychCentral and the founding editor-in-chief of the Poydras Review.

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APA Reference
Newman, S. (2018). In Times of Great Stress, Reach for the Pause Button. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 28 Jan 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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