Pressing the Pause Button: Managing Distress with Mindfulness

In the hustle and bustle of modern life, we often find ourselves swept away by the currents of stress and anxiety. It can feel like we’re caught in a whirlwind in these moments, reacting instinctively rather than responding thoughtfully. However, there is a simple yet effective tool at our disposal: the power of pressing the pause button. By consciously choosing to pause, we can shift from a reactive state driven by our primal instincts to a more mindful approach rooted in our wise mind. This helps us to navigate challenges with greater clarity, emotional balance and intentionality, ultimately fostering healthier relationships with ourselves and others.

The human brain is a complex organ, and when faced with distressing situations, it often defaults to the amygdala, the part responsible for our fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses. These automatic reactions served our ancestors well in times of danger, but in today’s world, they can often lead to more harm than good. When we operate from this reactive state, we may find ourselves challenged with managing pain, illness, trauma, and/or making impulsive decisions or saying things we later regret.

Pressing the pause button interrupts this automatic response mechanism, giving us the opportunity to step back and regain control over our thoughts, emotions, and actions. In this moment of pause, we transition from the amygdala to what is known as the wise mind – a state of balanced awareness that integrates both rational thinking and emotional intuition.

From the vantage point of the wise mind, we can mindfully ‘ride the wave’ of distress, acknowledging our emotions without being swept away by them. We can respond thoughtfully, drawing on our inner wisdom to navigate challenging situations with clarity and composure.

Practicing the pause button technique is simple yet powerful. It starts with cultivating awareness of our internal state and recognizing when we’re beginning to feel overwhelmed or reactive. In these moments, we can take a deliberate pause, perhaps by taking a few deep breaths, engaging in a brief mindfulness exercise, or simply stepping away from the situation momentarily.

During this pause, we can ask ourselves a series of guiding questions:

  • What am I feeling right now?
  • What thoughts are running through my mind?
  • What sensations am I experiencing in my body?

By bringing awareness to these aspects of our experience, we create space for discernment and insight to emerge which allows us to:

  • Push it away in our mind.
  • Think about skills/tools we can use.
  • Ask ourselves how we can problem-solve this.
  • Keep our priorities in mind.
  • Ask ourselves if the timing is good to respond.
  • Then respond effectively.

As we continue to practice pressing the pause button, we develop greater resilience in the face of distress. We become less reactive and more responsive, better equipped to handle life’s inevitable ups and downs with calm and grace. With each pause, we strengthen our connection to the wise mind, fostering a deeper sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

The power of pressing the pause button is a valuable tool for managing distress and cultivating mindfulness in our daily lives, while also inviting us to embrace the quirky dance of life with a touch of humor. By consciously choosing to pause, we can transcend the grip of our primal instincts and tap into the wisdom that resides within us.

So, go ahead, press that big fat pause button and give your body and mind a chance to communicate its ability to hold you in hard moments. Remember, in the grand symphony of existence, sometimes the best way to find harmony is to take a brief pause and listen to the rhythm of your own wise mind.

 If you need additional guidance on pressing the pause button to increase health and wellness in your life, you may want to consider individual therapy or The Health and Wellness Intensive Outpatient Program at The Behavioral Wellness Group. intensive-outpatient-program-iop/ content/uploads/2023/05/HEALTH_AND_WELLNESS_PROGRAM_BROCHURE.pdf

Lisa McDonough, M.A.
Pre-Doctoral Psychology Intern
The Behavioral Wellness Group