Stressed out? Ready to tell so and so what you think? You already know that in the heat of the moment, your emotions can distort an already-difficult situation. Here's advice on how to succeed by waiting.
Your boss chews you out in front of everybody. You vow, "If this happens again, I'm going to tell him what he can do with this job."
But the fantasy is so much better than the reality. A morning after filled with scouring want ads and a mortgage that needs paying might lead to some serious regrets.
There is tremendous value in adopting a "sleep-on-it" perspective in times of great emotion
. While you may not be able to see beyond the heat of the moment, you can delay your response until a time when calm and clarity are restored.
"Anger and other emotions make you act out in a negative way," says Kathleen Burton, a diplomat in cognitive-behavioral therapy with a practice in California. "To change your perspective
, you have to take a time-out of some kind."
Burton says you may not literally have to sleep on it. A walk around the block, a few quiet minutes of breathing exercises
, a drive to the park and back, all of these can have wonderfully restorative powers.
When we don't take this time out, we're at the mercy of our automatic, highly reactive thoughts. "My boss hates me. I knew I wasn't any good at this." Or, "I can't work under these conditions."
An article in the journal, Cognition and Emotion, points out that both short-term negative moods and long-term depression turn your brain into a factory of negative thoughts.
But you don't need a clinical study to tell you what you already know: A road-rage mentality that sends you storming out on a job or abruptly ending a relationship is not always constructive.
How to Approach Stress
Sleep on it.
With practice, you can train yourself to focus on other things. Don't think of switching off an emotion as repression, but rather self-control. Returning to a difficult subject later is the essence of maturity.
Write down all your feelings and ideas.
Take action by using your anger to spark fresh, creative thinking
. You may jot down many bad ideas, but hit on a gem or two. By getting your thoughts on paper, you may discover that you not only want to quit your job, but that you want to change careers. Time will be your best editor.
Schedule time to talk later.
This is a great strategy in marital conflicts. Couples tend to do two counterproductive things in an argument: try to ignore the problem, or discuss the problem emotionally rather than diplomatically. Scheduling time when both parties are calm and focused is a way to avoid either of these extremes.
Get to the root of your emotions.
Are you always flying off the handle? Is the current problem what's really bothering you, or is it something else?
We tend to respond to situations automatically and forget we have a choice in how to react. If you stay relatively calm now, you may not need to sleep on it at all. A cool head will open the door to sound judgment.