What To Do When You’re Stressed, Distressed, Or Overwhelmed

“Picture a pattern of upright dominoes that have been positioned just far enough away from one other to highlight the gap between them, but just close enough to hit each other if one of them tips over. Hit a single domino and it sets off a chain reaction. Oftentimes, our own actions, reactions and counter-reactions, criticisms and defensive responses function like dominoes. When we’re not able to access our mindfulness, reactivity takes over.” ~Alicia Muñoz, psychotherapist and author, from Mindful Loving

Before my husband and I were married, he lived in New Zealand and I lived in the States. One way we coped with the distance was by making cassette tapes for each other, which we would send via snail mail.

Sometimes we shared news of the day, personal information, and future dreams. Occasionally, in the middle of the night, the messages were passionate and deeply private—as only 3 am messages in the grip of longing and limerence can be.

One day, I had a client who was interested in the teachings of a meditation instructor with whom I was acquainted, so I offered to make her a tape of a session from the instructor’s workshop. I grabbed a blank tape from a nearby basket, used my recorder to dub one of the sessions, and passed the tape on to her.

A few days later, she asked if she could come by my office for a moment. When she arrived, she was uncomfortable and flustered as she handed the tape back to me.

“Uh, I—I don’t think you meant this for me,” she stammered. Then she abruptly left my office.

My heart seized. I knew which tape it was before I even listened to it. It was a recording so steamy I hadn’t even sent it to Tim. Somehow, instead of getting thoroughly erased or tossed in the garbage, the tape had found its way into the blank-tape basket.

I can’t find the words to describe my feelings. Crushing embarrassment surged through my body. When I made it home, I flung myself onto the couch and lay there for ten minutes, paralyzed with shock.

“How could you have been so careless?” I berated myself. It felt like the end of my career. As my shame and self-castigation mounted, my ability to discern my options plummeted. I began to consider moving to another town.

Suddenly I remembered a training session on stress management I’d recently attended. It had advocated pausing long enough to take a slow, deep breath whenever we feel overwhelmed and then doing something different.

I forced my leaden legs to stand and set the…

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