What do I do? This is a common thought in my mind and a common question brought to therapy. This may be something many of us are wondering in light of the global pandemic and how significantly life has changed in such a short period of time. Oddly enough, in therapy there are times we offer paradoxical solutions. Sometimes, instead of coming up with anything too quickly, we pause.
The “pause” solution can be frustrating to the mind and the logical problem-solver that inhabits some of the loudest and most demanding neurons in the brain. It can seem counter-intuitive to sit still in the midst of demanding circumstances or challenging feelings. We spend lifetimes coming up with more and more elaborate ways to distract and avoid the pause. Have you ever thought
mid-stream due to some type of overwhelm and taken a deep breath you have likely utilized the pause.
In this post I’ll share some information about when and why therapists recommend mindful pausing and how to go about doing so.
The holocaust survivor and author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” Viktor Frankl stated in his writing; “between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power.” Another way to state this is; between what happens to us and what we do about what happens to us is an opportunity to pause, and if we can pause in that space we can regain power over our responses to things. Frankl's quote is used to explain the value
wondering how we even got to that point in the first place. In fact, this is so common we have a name for the experience: autopilot.
A few examples of common autopilot behaviors might be: we have every intention of being more kind to our partner or children or to avoid the midnight snack or steer clear of the liquor store, but we slip up so quickly and entirely it’s almost like being blind-sided. Similar to when we drive from one location to another with other things on our mind and then arrive wondering how we got there or realize we don’t recall many details of the actual trip, we can find ourselves doing things we set out to avoid or things we promised ourselves we wouldn’t do. Often waking up to our own awareness after the fact and when it is too late for behavior change. Practicing pausing can be an exit from habitual and patterned behavior cycles.
into autopilot responses for efficiency's sake. Even destructive behaviors get this treatment. This is why we can want out of our negative or harmful patterns desperately and also have the experience that all our wiring and programing is working against that effort. So why do we pause in therapy?
Tip: If road rage is a problem and you find yourself thinking or vocalizing how inconsiderate and thoughtless the driver who cuts you off in traffic is, you can practice imagining all sorts of scenarios like, “they are late for an important surprise party for a friend, or they’ve been inhabited by aliens from another planet who aren’t entirely familiar with the rules of the road yet on earth.” These are intentionally silly in nature but can provide flexible mental content that could assist in shifting thoughts from autopilot responses to considering other options.
So, what are the benefits of pausing?
If autopilot gives us one solution to our situation that must be rigidly adhered to no matter what, pausing mindfully provides the opportunity to consider many different options and engage flexibly with a chosen response. We can learn how to lean into our
Pausing can allow things we’ve been running away from to catch up, which can be intimidating and scary, but it can also be an opportunity to learn we are capable of withstanding the things we’ve been worried about. We get to challenge the thoughts we may have that tell us we can’t face something. Having a therapist along for this part of the experience can be useful at first especially if what we’ve been distracting from is traumatic in nature.
How can pausing benefit my mental health?
Obsessive thoughts, rumination on the past, anxious thought loops, and prolonged stress responses can all be reduced through mindful attention and learning how to pause more effectively. This can take place with a trained mental health professional who can assist you in learning how to pause in the moment, what to notice while you are pausing, and how to handle distressing thoughts and sensations during a pause.
If you would like to explore mindfulness and learn how to practice pausing more effectively or more often for mental health benefits please contact me. More information can be found on my website: www.andrewtaegel.com or you can reach me by phone at: (573) 544-0303. I am offering both in-person and telehealth online therapy options currently.
I am a therapist in private practice working to assist those struggling with self-doubt, guilt/shame, addiction, anxiety, depression, and grief to decreasing the struggle with internal distress and commit to actions that move them closer to the things they value most.