Anxiety and the Power of Pause

© michaeljung –

According to the American Psychological Association, as many as 70% of primary care visits are driven by patients’ psychological problems. Though you may go to your primary care practitioner with physical health issues, anxiety is likely to be a contributing factor.

The impact of anxiety is multi-faceted. It may start from stress and escalate, or ongoing stress may accumulate to become anxiety. It is also its own problem.

Anxiety is often quite painful, yet over time it can become so familiar that not feeling the anxiety is uncomfortable. While it’s unwanted, anxiety can be helpful and it may even be good for you. It sometimes keeps you active, detail- and task-oriented, and safe.

In her book Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety, Dr. Chloe Carmichael describes how high-functioning people can experience anxiety and other disorders. She offers tools to help clients when their anxiety-fueled coping mechanisms no longer work or even backfire.

I have a list of similar tools that I use in therapy sessions with my clients. While I could name 100 tools, I’m going to stick to just one:


This powerful tool is simple yet can be extremely challenging. Some of my clients find this prescription so confronting that it takes some convincing to get them to even try. For them, and for you, I offer the following list. Knowing the benefits of a tool can make it more appealing to try, and encourages consistent practice.

Benefits of taking a pause

  • Clear thinking
  • Improved decision-making
  • Better sleep
  • Enhanced productivity
  • Progress toward goals
  • Calmer pace
  • Improved focus and energy
  • Power of choice

These benefits add up to what might be the most important one: more and heartfelt presence in relationships.

9 ways to practice the pause

Start with small things (micro practices) and then weave in more of these tools as they feel less uncomfortable. (I say less uncomfortable so you know there may be some discomfort in starting something new, especially this, and that’s okay).

  1. Sleep on it. This familiar expression actually works to give us space when making decisions or facing a challenging task.
  2. Take a time-out. If a conversation is feeling heated, excuse yourself to use the restroom, or grab a cup of tea. If you don’t feel like you can step away, pause to take a sip of water or consult your notes.
  3. Stop and write. Journal about a difficult situation, incorporating your pause before you start writing.
  4. Take a breath. Try the physiological sigh or use your favorite breathing technique.
  5. Step outside and do nothing. This typically brings instant clarity.
  6. Stare into space. One of my mentors calls this “stare time,” and recommends it as an option for getting quiet and going within.
  7. Listen to a guided yoga nidra audio. I recommend Jennifer Piercy on Insight Timer.
  8. Do one yoga pose.
  9. Go to a yoga or other gentle movement class. I’ve had many brainstorms at yoga class when I’m in “legs up the wall” or another restorative pose. (No, I don’t stop and write ideas down, I let them simmer and know that whatever stays with me is what I need.)

When you feel anxiety, it’s natural to want to stay active so you feel like you’re helping your situation. But often it’s when you pause that your situation can settle down, and so can you.