When we feel stressed it is easy to get stuck in black and white thinking. We tend to believe there is one right answer and everything else is wrong or simply a distraction. The challenge of engaging in this type of thinking is that life feels like a battle. Traffic on the freeway, a long line at Starbucks, or a loved one asking questions can seem like major concerns.
The good news is that there are ways that we can support ourselves in disengaging from these fight or flight impulses. We can work with our thinking so that we remember that we are more loved and supported than we realize. Rather than getting stuck on autopilot, we can make new choices that will lead to greater levels of success and satisfaction.
There was a young student who was rather impulsive. Although he was 6, developmentally he was more akin to a toddler. If left to his own devices he would storm around with his arms folded, refusing to do anything that was asked of him. He preferred to be the king of the jungle rather than a cooperative member of the class.
Together, our team of teachers gathered to discuss our options. As tempting as it was to get upset with this student, doing so only added to his frustration and might lead to him running away or worse. Instead, we made a plan that involved giving him two acceptable choices during every segment of the day. If he wanted to cry or fuss, we simply waited until he was finished and then gave him his choices again. Before long, he went from a constant concern in finding his place in the flow of the classroom routine.
One reason why choices are so effective is that they engage our creative thinking. They take us out of rigid impulsivity and open us up to new possibilities. When we feel stressed we are looking at life through too narrow a focus. By stepping back and considering new options, the chemicals in our brain begin to balance themselves out and we regain access to higher-order thinking. As a result, we feel more like ourselves and our moods improve.
Perhaps you have been feeling stuck and stressed out. Rather than digging in harder, take a step back and make a new choice. Consider new options for proceeding, even if they seem silly at first. The simple act of exploring new options will give your mind a needed break from the pressure of trying too hard to get it right. You will avoid unnecessary conflicts and debates by taking your mood into your own hands. As always, you are worth the effort to remember how amazing you are.
Edward Biagiotti is the Inclusion Specialist for Culver City Unified School District and the cohost of the inspirational podcast “Funniest Thing! with Darrell and Ed” on iTunes. For questions, comments, and ideas for future columns, send an email to EdwardBiagiotti@ccusd.org