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The Timeout Chair

My husband and I got caught in the Atlanta airport power outage debacle. We sat on an airplane for four hours before they kicked us off. Then we spent two more hours in the airport trying to find a hotel and a plan for getting back home. Oh, and to make it even more fun, there was no place to get food. I’m 52 years old. I was annoyed. Until, that is, I looked around and saw many families with young children. Annoyance turned to pity for them and relief for me that I didn’t have kids to handle.

Once set free from the airplane, a four-year-old boy celebrated his freedom by running circles around the chairs in the airport, singing/shouting his relief. With a baby tucked to her hip, his mother grabbed him by the arm, lowered to her haunches, looked the boy in the eyes and said, “Do I need to find you a timeout chair?”

We Are All Four Years Old Sometimes

Several weeks ago, a friend mentioned that she gets stressed and that “overwhelmed” feeling at work. She’s struggling with how to handle it. As she explained, she can’t continue to hide in the bathroom until she collects herself. She can’t cry at her desk. She can’t throw things. She can’t run around the office cubicles shouting. She needs a private “time out chair”.

Last week, I was on a live aboard dive boat with 13 other people. We were in the middle of the Caribbean Sea with land a far away dream. My anxiety ratcheted up. There was nowhere to go – nowhere to run – nowhere to hide. There simply was no “timeout chair”.

The question, then, is how can we create a timeout chair in our own mind and body? How can we take 3-5 minutes to just find balance, find perspective, find peace? How can we keep ourselves from running around screaming and shouting?

That, my friend, is a personal discovery. What works for me would drive you mad. What works for me today might send me into the madhouse tomorrow.

Some Timeout Suggestions

Even though you have to build your own toolbox for handling super stress, I do want to give you some of the ideas that work for me – or, I should say, work for me sometimes.

  1. I always have a book or something to read with me.
  2. I always have an audible book with me – this is how I survived being stranded in an airplane. I listened to an entire book. With an audible book, you get to disappear behind earphones and, if the narrator is good, you “enter” another world. Hint: for these super stressful times, have a fictional selection available. I’ve found that listening to a self-help book in the middle of a crisis makes me more frustrated. A benefit of the headphones – people avoid you.
  3. Pen and paper – doodle, write dirty words, write your anger/anxiety/fear out, write a letter to the person driving you to the edge. Fold the paper into weird shapes. As I listened to the book in the airplane, I kept my pad of paper open and created designs.
  4. Keep a snack available at all times. Letting your blood sugar drop is a sure way to add to the anxiety. I keep almonds. I want to keep chocolate. I also try to always have water.
  5. Do a deep breathing exercise (and, if you’re like me, you are rolling your eyes). But, I have found one that truly works: draw in a long breath for a full five seconds, hold the breath in your lungs for another five seconds, release the breath over another five seconds. 5-5-5 breathing. I’ve been shocked how helpful it is – I use it all the time while driving.
  6. Mindfulness – be in the moment but make it a “fun” moment. I play a game with myself. While in that airport, I did a treasure hunt with my eyes:
    • Who looked the most tired?
    • Which woman had on the most ridiculous outfit for travel?
    • Which kid had the droopiest diaper?
    • Which husband/wife were fighting?
    • Which husband (or wife) was totally oblivious to the spouse’s growing rage? (there was one man whose wife was holding an infant, feeding a 3-year-old, almost in tears – this man moved two seats away, put in his earphones and dozed). I further enjoyed imagining how long it would be before he got sex again.
    • Which employee was going to lose it first?
    • Who is making the biggest ass of him/herself – and then pat yourself on your back that you aren’t that person (are you?)?
    • And, an age-old favorite, listen to other people’s conversations – usually you can find an interesting one.
    • Whose stuff is even messier than yours? Whose clothes more rumpled? Yes, I’m suggesting you revel in judgment – it’s in your own mind so let it run free for a few minutes.
  7. One other thing that really helps me is to imagine my favorite fictional characters and how they would react to whatever is happening. I especially like to imagine my romantic heroes. For example, how would Christian Grey respond to this crisis? Mr. Darcy? What would Sheldon say (Big Bang Theory)? What would Trump tweet? Yes, I know Trump’s not fictional, but you get the idea.
  8. Find someone to talk to for fun – I started a conversation with a woman from Alabama. We only talked for maybe five minutes before I went back to my book but that was five minutes of getting “outside” the drama.
  9. Can you find a way to move around? I walked a circle around the terminal (still listening to my book). I suggested to my friend that rather than disappear into the bathroom that she should head to the stairs, walk a couple of flights and listen to her favorite hell raising song.
  10. Listen to your favorite song and try to figure out the circumstances that created the lyrics. Where in the song writer’s soul did that come from?

None of these may sound good to you. I watched one woman with a detailed coloring book and fancy pens. She disappeared into that.

The fact is that we all get revved up – at work, at home, in traffic, in the mall, with family, or just because that’s who we are – and we can’t run around like four-year-olds. For 2018, be intentional in finding ways to get away from it all even as you sit in the middle of it.

Please send me any and all suggestions!

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    June with Purple Hair

    In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....

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