We Asked the Experts How to Take a Pause When You Need OneThe power of a pause is real.
Slow down? We hardly know her. If you’re anything like us, then the idea of taking a pause can feel out of reach in our overscheduled, always-busy world. No matter how good our intentions are, our hustle-harder culture pushes us to prioritize getting things done and moving on to the next instead of living mindfully…and a bit slower. And with so much vying for our attention these days—we’re looking at you, 24-hour news cycle, TikTok, and the never-ending stream of Slacks—taking a pause can seem unrealistic or downright impossible.
But it doesn’t have to be so hard. And, according to the experts, there are major benefits to implementing a pause in different situations throughout your day. “Impulsivity doesn’t really benefit anyone,” explains psychotherapist Sarah Ahmed, RSW. “That’s because we're coming from a place of reacting rather than responding.”
When we act with more intention, pausing in the midst of tough conversations or stressful situations to really think through what we want to say or do next, we end up making decisions that are more aligned with our values. “You’ll find yourself wondering or regretting why you did something a lot less,” says Ahmed. It’s a practice so powerful that even professional athletes, like those taking part in the biggest women’s soccer tournament in the world, use it to clear their heads and keep cool during tense games.
To find out how you can easily implement more pauses into your daily life and reap the benefits, we asked Ahmed to share her best tips and tricks.
1. Focus on your breath.
It can feel especially tricky to take a pause when you’re in a situation that you can’t physically escape, like in the middle of a work presentation or an important match. But taking a second to pause and breathe in those moments can be hugely impactful, helping to calm your nerves and ground you in the present (instead of whatever future-oriented fears are running through your head).
“Just do a quick scan of your breath. What is it like?” says Ahmed. “You can take a full deep breath and people won’t even know that you’re doing it.”
2. Grab a cold one.
Another hack for moments when you can’t really escape the heat: Ahmed recommends having a cold beverage on hand so that you can subtly pause to take a drink whenever you need it. Besides giving you an excuse to slow down and sip on a Powerade, it can also help cool your body if you’re prone to anxiety sweats. It could even help to place something cold—like a cold bottle of Powerade—on areas like your wrists or the back of your neck to help bring down that fight-or-flight response.
3. Excuse yourself (if possible).
When your anxiety is at an all-time high, Ahmed recommends stepping out to the bathroom where you can take three really big deep breaths and ground yourself away from the noise. Running cold water over your hands or splashing it on your face can help calm your nerves too.
And if you happen to have access to some essential oils, like peppermint or citrus, Ahmed recommends dabbing those on your wrists or neck. Scent can act as a reminder to slow down and activate the olfactory system in the brain which can help relax you, she says.
4. Try to buy yourself some time before responding.
Taking a moment (or 10) to clear your head in the midst of a tense conversation or argument with a loved one or colleague can be one of the toughest but most beneficial pauses. Stepping away from the heat of the moment allows you to clear your head and respond more thoughtfully (and less regretfully) to the situation.
Ahmed recommends rehearsing certain lines for situations like these in advance, so that when you’re burning up with anger in the moment you know exactly what to say. “The first step is catching yourself getting angry and being aware that this isn’t a good time to talk,” she says. Then you want to say something like: “I want to talk to you about this but I'm not in the right headspace right now to have a conversation that's productive.”
You can also tell the other person that you need to get back to something but can continue the conversation at another time, whether it’s later in the day or next week. This buys you time to think more intentionally and from a calmer place about what you want to say.
5. Be honest with yourself when you need a prolonged pause.
Sometimes in life a short pause just won’t do. You might be burnt out by your job, in need of space from a difficult relationship, or craving time to take care of your health—whatever it is, taking a longer pause can be restorative for your body and mind.
If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed by a certain situation or aspect of your life but aren’t sure whether you need to take a pause, Ahmed recommends reflecting on your current capacity. “Ask yourself: what’s my capacity like? Can I deal with this right now?” she says. If the answer is pretty clear that you don’t have the bandwidth to deal, start looking for ways to take a step back—whatever that might look like for you.
If you’re considering taking a break from work, Ahmed recommends reading up on your company’s HR policies, which can usually be found in company handbooks, before you bring this up to anyone at your job. Once you know what your company offers in terms of short- and long-term leave, you can make a more informed decision about what to ask for and approach your boss with the right documentation, if needed.
6. Let people know how to best support you during a pause.
It can be tempting to try to just maintain the status quo even when you’re stepping onto the sidelines, says Ahmed, but it’s OK to tell people you’re in need of a break. Whether you’re stepping away from socializing for a period because you’re slammed at work or are having health issues that make it hard to network, telling people upfront what you need (or don’t) can help avoid any confusion and help them support you the best way they can. “You can set what your boundaries are,” she says. Try saying something like, “I’m slammed at work and may be a bit MIA for the next month, but I’ll reach out and let you know when I come up for air.”
Although it may feel awkward or uncomfortable, setting your boundaries by taking a pause can be super restorative and help you to feel more in control of your life.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.