Darkness is usually something we fear. But as the easing of lockdown beckons us into the light, I’ve been contemplating how there’s a real sense of anxiety brewing.

Some people who thought they were natural extroverts, have come to realise how much they actually enjoy the shelter of their home environment, releasing the pressure to put on a brave face to go out and be ‘part’ of it all, all of the time. While others may have noticed how much they need regular physical human interaction to survive, let alone thrive. And then there are those in between feeling needy for face-to-face interaction in one moment and dreading it the next.

Wherever we find ourselves, feelings of trepidation may appear as we begin to return to university, school, work and a more open life in general.

Here, I explore five ways to use a moment of PAUSE to connect us into our feelings and offer us choice of response.

Anyone who has worked with me will have heard me talk about the ‘Power of the Pause’: this spectacular moment of magic which we often under-utilise. So much can happen when we harness the power contained within a pause. It can be a micro-second, a single breath or a much longer period of contemplation, depending on the situation.

“Right now, in this very moment just pause … be aware of your body in this space, then notice what you’re feeling as you breathe in and breathe out, for around 15 seconds … There, it’s that simple!”

Pausing to experience, happiness, sadness, joyfulness, or anxiety, is a practice. Like any practice, it takes a moment of conscious effort to do it and to notice what it reveals. It is not a practice which robs us of spontaneity, excitement or impact but one which offers us more choice.

What might the Power of the Pause offer you when we think about re-entering the world of human-to-human interaction, whether it’s returning to work or university and the bigger world out there?

Here is an easy acronym you can jot down and remember:

P. A. U. S. E

Looking at each letter one by one;

P. ause to notice what’s really here for you

What? Well, yes, just that. So often we think ahead; we project our perceptions into the future. We race into millions of ‘what if’ scenarios, encouraging our fears to take a nice firm grip and our bodies to experience a stress response. We might feel a racing heartbeat, sweaty hands, a dry mouth, shaky and things we can’t possibly notice, like our cortisol (stress hormone) increasing through our body and sending us into a numb sense of fog. By offering ourselves a moment to pause, to notice what is really here in this moment, it helps ground us back into the present and stops the whirlwind of reaction which is quickly gaining momentum.

Things to try when feeling anxious:

Perhaps take a moment to look around your space, if possible, go to a window or outside and take a few breaths in and out, perhaps pick a colour you identify with and spend a few moments noticing where it appears in your space. Or count 5- things you can see, 4-things you can hear, 3-things you can touch, 2-things you can smell, 1-thing you can taste. Offering yourself a moment to connect back to your body and your surroundings.

Once we are in a more present state, we can move on to the next stage.

A. ccumulate my awareness

In a more rested physical state, we are in a better position to acknowledge what is really going on. This affords us more control over our responses. Here if we have time, we might take a moment to write down everything we notice about the scenario and everything we are perceiving (fact and fiction). If no time to write, perhaps a few moments to make a mental note.  Giving the anxiety some time to be observed, helps us clarify the different ways it is showing up in the moment, allowing us time to untangle the physical or mental overwhelm.

Let’s use returning to work as an example:

Thoughts which might be appearing and creating anxiety:

  • I don’t fit in anymore, they won’t understand me
  • They won’t like me, I never really believed they did
  • I am not good enough to do the job anymore
  • I don’t have anything useful to say
  • I’m worried about working close to other people
  • I don’t want to stop taking my daily walking break
  • It’s so noisy, how will I concentrate
  • None of my clothes fit, I hate my body
  • I am anxious about public speaking in meetings
  • All those people on the train, how will I cope
  • I am anxious just thinking about it all, how will I possibly manage
  • I am exhausted right now

With these specific areas now understood a little bit more, we are ready to move towards understanding.

U. nderstand my situation better

When we have a clearer picture of the thoughts, emotions and situations that are causing us anxiety, perhaps recognising our own patterns we can begin to apply some compassion and understanding. We can remember that we are not our thoughts: we are a person living and experiencing the thoughts. We are not in control of our thoughts appearing and as regular thoughts become more practiced, they often form a pattern and merge into a belief that we then choose to hold. But when we practice more pause, we begin to see the patterns forming, and by observing the thoughts we gain greater understanding, allowing ourselves more choice about what we want to believe or how we want to react.

Let’s partner a couple of the statements above with slightly different language. You can try this with your list too.

  • I don’t fit in anymore, they won’t understand me
  • I have changed a bit, but haven’t we all
  • They won’t like me, I never really believed they did
  • I get to like me and they get to choose, that’s all I can control
  • I am not good enough to do the job anymore
  • I am good enough right now to do the job

If we create and offer an adjusted but equally valid statement, we can notice how each impact us differently and decide which version we want to use. With this, we can begin to sense into what our body needs most in this moment.

S. ense what I need most

Pausing to understand our situations better enables us space to sense which of our thoughts, emotions and behaviours are helping us and which are hurting us. With this information, we can clarify what we need most in that moment and moving forward.

Using our example:

I now see what’s happening and understand why I am feeling anxious about returning to work. I see how I was responding and allowing my mind to race ahead. I know I always self-sabotage when I feel out of control and tired, my friends always tell me so and constantly tell me not to worry. But really when I look at what worries me most, it’s about not feeling good enough to do my job. I know I have felt this before and moved through it, so first, I need sleep and then I will make a plan in the morning. 

E. xplore my options

Having given ourselves a moment to soften and sense exactly what we need most, in this case it was sleep, we are in a better position to intentionally explore our options. This offers us more focus and clarity of what our exact needs are and we can create a tangible plan. This inevitably leads to feelings of relief, a greater sense of calm and being back in control of you.

Our example on self-doubt:

Just because I have been at home, does not mean I haven’t been doing ok at my job. I know that I need regular check-ins with my manager, and I haven’t had one for a long time. I value their opinion and they give me fair feedback.

What positive action can I choose to take?

  • I am booking time today with my manager
  • I am brave and will share my worries about returning to work
  • I am going to discuss what we might do as a team to create a space to openly speak about our concerns with room to collectively come up with solutions
  • I am asking for time to take a 15 minute walk every day as I know it makes my afternoons so much more productive and aids my sleep.
  • I will explore some literature, course or coaching to help me further develop my awareness and coping strategies through self-doubt.
  • I am going to practice a commute to work so it’s not brand new on the first day back and I will create a favourite podcast list or use natural sound scape recordings to help my transition in these challenging environments
  • I am going to take something to work for my desk that brings me joy and helps me stay present.
  • I am going to begin a new routine today which supports my mornings and bedtimes, offering me better sleep.
  • I am going to plan a mini celebration for the end of the first week of work to acknowledge this milestone
  • I am able to pause and remember the power of the pause whenever I need it.

Sometimes we just need an easy way to offer ourselves the opportunity to remember to pause. A powerful pause can be applied each and every day to experience the whole tapestry of life. You might be a leader of a team with your own anxiety rising, and by experiencing and demonstrating the power of the pause, you will bring more empathy and understanding back into the work environment. Here you might take positive action and create a space to explore these conversations with your team.

There is really nothing to lose by practicing pause. When you do, people notice and you get to spread the magic of the moment further.

If this has resonated with you and you feel you might need some help with your transition back into the light. Perhaps restoring your inner confidence by implementing more pause and balance in your world then get in touch and we can arrange a curiosity call.

“take a moment to notice the space between the raindrops, what is there for you?”

With Love,

Sam

ICF ACC Coach | Certified Forest Therapy Guide | Mental Health First Aider

Illustration design: Ella Tysome @ellatillustration

Copyright Natural Edge Coaching Ltd 2021