A young woman with a peaceful look and closed eyes holding a cup of tea illustrates stress relief strategies

Is stress preventing you from being successful? Do you get anxious when making difficult decisions?

When you feel like you’ve hit an impasse, you need to center yourself and calmly evaluate your situation. The anxiety that feeling trapped provokes can lead to rash and reckless decisions. Adam Alter says the antidote is to slow down even more, taking stock of your options as you do.

Alter offers several stress relief strategies to deal with the anxiety brought about by feeling trapped or stuck.

Strategy #1: Stop and Explore

The anxiety you feel when your progress gets stalled—whether you’re writing a grant proposal or training for an upcoming race—comes from an exaggerated need to perform. Your fight-or-flight instinct will try to kick in, pushing you to act and make choices before you’ve had time to fully think them through. Instead, when you start to feel stuck, you should stop and explore exactly what’s slowing you down. This stress relief strategy can negate your fear-based reactions and give you time to come up with a well-thought-out next step.

(Shortform note: Breaking free from the anxiety Alter describes may take more than an intellectual exploration of the problem. It will likely require a degree of self-compassion to avoid unproductively blaming yourself for whatever is holding you back. Impartial, self-compassionate curiosity about your situation creates a clear mindset and permits better choices. Things not to do include trying to bury your feelings altogether, focusing on your anxiety too much, or failing to engage with your struggles at all.)

Strategy #2: Practice Mindfulness

Alter says that mindfulness is a good approach to grappling with anxiety. Mindfulness, traditionally learned through meditation, is a deliberate moment-to-moment awareness of your mental and physical state. Whether or not you explore meditation, it’s vital to acknowledge the anxiety you’re feeling and recognize how it manifests in your body. The hard part is letting yourself feel your anxiety rather than trying to run from it or quash it. By letting your anxiety sit and be examined, you’ll be able to root out the cause of your fear. Perhaps the barrier holding you back isn’t as insurmountable as it seems, or maybe you’ve mentally framed your situation in such a way that not moving forward feels like more of a threat than it is.

(Shortform note: The mindfulness meditation that Alter recommends forms the basis of many modern mental health approaches, originating in contemplative faith traditions from all over the world. Shortform’s Master Guide to Choosing a Meditation Practice points to a variety of mindfulness options, including non-faith-based techniques to improve your memory and focus. If you choose the mindfulness route, experts agree that you should try to start small, incorporate a support network if you can, and make mindfulness an active part of your daily routine.)

Strategy #3: Plan for the Worst

The most basic fear behind every impasse is usually the fear of failure, so Alter argues that you should mentally rehearse your failure before it becomes an existential problem. This goes against most self-help advice, which states that you should always visualize success. But, Alter argues, if you spend time thinking through worst-case scenarios—what happens if the thing you’re hoping for doesn’t happen—you’ll emotionally prepare yourself for the milder-than-worst-case difficulties you’re bound to run into. By fully thinking through the consequences of failure, you may also realize that not achieving your goal exactly how you want isn’t the end of the world.

(Shortform note: Psychologists normally consider ruminating on worst-case scenarios, also known as catastrophizing, to be an inherently negative and irrational mode of thought, usually because people who do so not only play through unwanted outcomes in their minds, but they tend to assume that the worst will happen. Especially when catastrophic thoughts are intrusive, turning them off requires deliberate effort to rewrite the narratives running through your head. If you follow Alter’s advice to consider the worst case, it’s also important to plan for a solution and remind yourself that you’ve devised one when the worst-case thoughts come back unwanted.)

3 Stress Relief Strategies for When You Feel Stuck

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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