6 Tips to Overcome Mental Gridlock
Have you heard the saying about the best-laid plans and how they tend to go awry? Well, you could imagine with a last name like ‘Murphy,’ that I’ve had my share of plans gone awry!! I understand how frustrating it can feel when something you’ve carefully planned falls apart.
I recently spent a few days having fun in the sun at a Long Island Beach with family friends. Even on the best day, road trips in or out of Long Island can be highly congested and dicey. With that in mind, when it was time to go home, we decided to make our return trip later in the evening to avoid any rush hour traffic.
Our ride was smooth as could be as we drove back through Long Island and popped into NYC. I felt elated that the toughest part of our trip was over and the final leg was upon us. New Jersey was within our sight as we approached the Holland Tunnel when we hit traffic! Not just your run-of-the-mill NYC traffic. This was epic, dead stop, gridlocked NYC traffic! Even the Waze app was unsure what to do with us!
There was an instant mood shift in my car. We went from feeling ‘happy—beachy—sleepy’ vibes to ‘high snark alert—totally deflated—will we ever get home’ vibes! It was immediate sensory overload with honking cars, brake lights, blinkers, and cars enmeshed in all directions within inches of each other!
In what felt like a split second, we went from almost back in New Jersey to never getting out of New York City! I could feel every muscle beginning to tense up. My first impulse was to join in the madness, but my kids beat me to it. While I was internalizing my frustration, they were doing the opposite by complaining about everything and nitpicking each other! The quick onset of the traffic jam was throwing our bodies into a fight or flight response, which would dictate our reaction to the situation. How fitting to be experiencing mental gridlock as we were sitting in actual real-life gridlock!
And then it hit me…How I choose to react is going to make a lasting impact and impression on my kids!
With that in mind, how do I want to present myself as a parent and as an adult to my children? How would I like my kids to react when they are faced with a moment of pressure? What can I do to stay calm and keep our bodies from triggering the flight or fight response?
What are my options? I could choose to build on the spiral of worry by venting my concerns and frustrations, rattling off a few expletives, laying on my horn and doing my best Mario Andretti to maneuver through the traffic. Or, I could relieve some of the tension by choosing to model another approach — one that puts me in control of my actions and our situation. While option one seems more satisfying, I’ll choose option two. Please and thank you!
Here are some tips that helped me free up my mind and get things moving through the mental and physical gridlock we were all experiencing at that moment.
Pause and find some Clarity--
When you start to feel things percolating, this is your moment to pause and find some clarity. Bring awareness to the situation and how you are feeling. Can you allow yourself to accept what is happening? Breathe and accept the current situation you are dealing with and allow it to just be for a moment.
Narrate & Connect—
Express and model your thoughts out loud with your children rather than internalizing your feelings. Talk about what’s happening and how you’re feeling toward the situation. You can even narrate your thought process moving forward. Something like, “Gahh. I’m pretty frustrated with this traffic. All the honking and cars so close to us are making me a little uneasy. I’m going to help myself stay calm by taking a few deep breaths. I wonder what else we could do to help our bodies stay relaxed?” This is a great way to connect and calm your child’s (and your own!!) emotional unrest so that you can maintain (or even reconnect) logical thinking.
Your brain is wired to see whatever it is you are focused on, so why not see the good? Rather than thinking, “We are NEVER going to get home!,” try thinking, “It’s going to take us a little longer to get home, and I ‘m glad we are safe.” In our situation, there were a few other discovered silver linings that emerged: we had a full tank of gas, no one needed the bathroom and we had snacks!
Keep Calm and Problem Solve On--
Finding your control in the situation is a great way to stay calm and build a plan together. Name what is and what is not in your control at the moment. For example, here were my thoughts while on the road:
I cannot control this traffic or how quickly the cars will move.
I cannot control how my kids will act.
I can control HOW I react to the traffic and how I will keep my body calm.
I can control my thinking and focus.
I can be in control of creating a plan.
Know your resources—
What do you have at the ready to help you through this situation? For me, I had access to Google maps and Waze, plenty of snacks and TWO teenagers to help as I drove (rather, stared at the car ahead of me!) The older teen worked out a route using the mapping apps and the younger teen watched for the exits to help us along the route - and, most importantly, provided snacks upon request!
Don’t let your brain take you in a downward spiral of false negativity! Remember, this too shall pass. At some point, you WILL get home! Believe me, my family and I have had our share of crummy situations. But, we’ve learned that those crummy moments also make for some really funny memories to look back on!
Are you curious how this mess ended? Well, we basically needed a shoehorn to wiggle our way out of that gridlock, but we made it home...90 minutes later! It was a long night, but we were already laughing about it before we even got home!