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Elizabeth Brenner Danziger

8 Ways to Combat Stress-Induced Brain Freeze

Adult man suffering from depression. Exhausted and alone in a dark room. Looking for comfort and touching face with hands.
Overwhelming stress can make us shut down mentally

My mind is blank. Usually, I am a busy entrepreneur brimming with ideas for new columns, business offerings, and marketing strategies. Since recent events in Israel, all that has gone away. I have close family in Jerusalem and sons of dear friends serving in Gaza and the West Bank. In this context, I ask myself if it matters whether I outline that new writing training program for my clients.

In times of extreme stress, the sense of “blanking out” is common. We all have limited reserves of cognitive focus, and when too much is going on behind the scenes, our minds do not function as they ordinarily would. Jacques Jospitre, Jr, MD, co-founder of SohoMD, a nationwide network of biological psychiatry providers, says, “Your past, your body, and your personal traumas, and who you set the stage for how you will respond to events in the Middle East.” 

Helping Stressed-Out Employees

Some of your employees or colleagues might be experiencing extreme stress right now due to world events. They might have family members or friends living or fighting in Israel. Regardless of their political views, they are stressed and anxious about their loved ones, and this might affect them at work. 

To help people who are struggling with current events, you can begin by asking them how they are doing and sharing your good wishes for their loved ones abroad. You can encourage them to take short breaks throughout the day to re-set their emotional equilibrium.

Some employees might need time off to process current events. Employees are responsible for communicating their situation and their needs to their employers so that both parties can work out a solution. Employers can also consider offering their team members classes in mindfulness, yoga, and other stress-management skills.

Helping Yourself Cope

What can you do if you are finding it difficult to concentrate on work in this uncertain time? Dr. Jospitre notes that there are both adaptive and maladaptive ways to soothe ourselves in times of extreme stress. Maladaptive behaviors include smoking, drinking, overeating, lashing out at others, and other activities that harm ourselves or others. Helpful behaviors include:

  1. Practice mindfulness and meditation. Deep breathing puts us back in sync with our parasympathetic nervous system, which contributes to a feeling of peacefulness and relaxation. 
  2. Stay physically active. Exercise has a powerful effect on our mental wellbeing as well. If you can’t focus on your work, don’t sit there grinding your gears. Go for a walk around the block or stroll in the park. 
  3. Reach out to friends and family. As the proverb says, “A trouble shared is a trouble halved.”  Remember that posting on social media to your online “friends” does not benefit you as much as a phone call with a friend.
  4. Hug. Simple physical contact can be extremely calming if done in a context that feels safe and supportive.
  5. Mind your nutrition. Sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can all have a negative impact on mood. Monitor your intake and observe how these substances affect your stress levels.
  6. Listen to music. Whether your jam is reggae, rock, or smooth jazz, listening to music will unrattle your nerves. 
  7. Limit your news consumption. Unless you are a diplomat or a general, you are not going to solve world problems by continuously watching the news.
  8. Destigmatize. You are not alone. If your experience becomes overwhelming, reach out to a mental health professional. 

Many people are anxious about world events, not only in the Middle East but throughout the planet. When stress threatens to shut me down, I count the many blessings in my life and think about how much good remains in the world. This approach, combined with self-care habits, keeps me sane in difficult times. 

 

About the Author
Elizabeth Brenner Danziger is the author of four books, including Winning by Letting Go (Harcourt Brace: 1985) and Get to the Point! (Random House: 2001). Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is the president of Worktalk Communications Consulting. She has four grown children and many grandchildren. She has been living an observant Jewish life for 40 years.
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