7 de-stressors when you hit a mental wall

by Margaret Robinson Rutherford ([email protected]) 298 views 

In the coming weeks, the pressures of the holiday season, financial decisions, and end-of-year responsibilities can all lead you to crash into a mental wall.

You can’t make decisions. You can’t seem to be creative. Nothing seems like a good idea. You can want to resign (which many are). Or work even harder (maybe not such a great idea when you’re running on empty).

Here are seven de-stressors to use when you hit that wall. They come from my utter frustration with a wall I recently encountered, and I decided to track what I did to jump that hurdle. Or crawl over it might be a better metaphor.

  1. First, accept. You can focus on what you wish was happening. But pummeling yourself over a good idea seeming as far away as Jupiter won’t help. So, step into acceptance of where you are — at least for enough time for you to try the rest of these steps. Acceptance isn’t resignation. It’s allowing something to be.
  2. Don’t panic or catastrophize. Imagining the absolute worst outcome of getting nothing done right now and convincing yourself of the inevitability of that worst thing occurring isn’t helpful. And it’s irrational. Realize you’re letting the whole day become about this one task. Yes, it’s important. But five years from now, will you even remember it?
  3. Trust your gut. Your drive or worry is telling you that something is immediate; your gut is saying, “Taking an hour away or getting a good night’s sleep is what’s needed.” Let your gut win.
  4. Breathe. Literally, catch yourself holding your breath or breathing in a shallow manner. When you deepen your breathing and slow it down, your parasympathetic nervous system will take over. And allow you to get your body out of fight, flight, freeze or fold mode. You’re in freeze mode right now. Stretch. Go for a walk. And breathe.
  5. Get perspective without shaming yourself. Many of us will be facing a mental wall and start being self-critical or self-deprecating. “I can’t believe I’m making this a big deal. There are many other people whose problems are much worse.” Of course, that’s right. That’s a good perspective. But the shameful stuff isn’t helpful. One of these days, your problems will trump someone else’s. You can have perspective without shame.
  6. Dr. Margaret Robinson Rutherford

    Discover triggers that could be fueling your current self-doubt or insecurity. Sit down and wonder, “What else is going on that might make my need to feel in control or übercompetent even more urgent?” Usually, you can find something. Many of us are discounting the constant thud of the pandemic’s beat in our ears, not wanting to admit its impact. Of course, it’s having an impact. Medical decisions about kids. Changes in travel plans. Surprising conflict with friends or family about vaccines. Grieving over an unexpected death. When you find context, it will help you both understand and have compassion toward that wall of yours.

  7. Allow distraction and time to help your mind percolate. Call an old friend. Make a homemade Bolognese sauce (my personal distraction). Do something out of the ordinary and find hope in creating something fresh and new.

Miraculously, when you sit down again, your creativity will likely reappear. These steps can help you climb that wall until the next one arrives. And then, it’ll be time to do it all over again.  w

Dr. Margaret Rutherford is a private practice psychologist in Fayetteville. The opinions expressed are those of the author.