How to reset your thinking after a stressful event by sarah boyd

Sarah Boyd (Photography River Bennett)

Something stressful happens.

It’s big in your world, maybe not completely overwhelming, but big enough…

You feel a mixture of emotions that you’re not sure how to deal with….

You react, emotionally and usually over the top. You say things you’d never normally say, do things you’d never normally do.

You start obsessing over it. You loose sleep, become irritable, miss details in your everyday life that you’re usually on top of because this issue or person or situation has now become all encompassing to you.

Things go from bad to worse and you wonder how you got to where you are sitting now.

Once we have a stress response activated in our brains, it is important that we interrupt and reset this process in order to avoid responding to the situation in a way that will making everything worse.

Here’s what happens from a neuroscience perspective when you experience a stress response:

A normal response to a stressor is called “fight or flight”. This process sends huge amounts of adrenaline and energy through your body. You can often feel your heart racing; feel hot & agitated, or highly emotional.

We all naturally respond differently to either confront the stressor head on (usually with aggression), or we want to run away from it and escape from it.

The logical and rational part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) also slows down and the emotional part of your brain (the limbic system) takes over.

Your brain starts looking and noticing threats in the environment. It becomes overly sensitive to this process and starts to notice threats it wouldn’t normally notice, and will consider things to be a threat when you normally wouldn’t label it this way.

A normal response for an individual during an uninterrupted stress response is:

1. Obsessive negative thinking: this is due to your brain being on high alert for threats and because you have extra energy in your system fueling this process.

2. Quick responses: the energy release in your system is primed for instant confrontation or instant running away.

3. High emotions: the emotional part of your brain has taken control and it takes a lot of time for your logical thinking process to catch up.

4. Poor decision making: this is due to the rational part of your brain not functioning at normal levels.

5. Problems sleeping: this is due to the energy release and your brain looking for more threats. Lack of good sleep then continues to make the situation worse.

You actually have to interrupt your stress response and reset in order to respond to your situation and life calmly & thoughtfully.



1.Never react immediately: although this will go against your instinct, it will save you big time! Take some time away from the situation.

2.Decide to not make any decisions on a course of action at this stage

3.Calm your emotions down:

One activity that is particularly helpful with obsessive negative thinking is journaling your thoughts.

Journaling interrupts the obsessive nature of thinking because it puts your thoughts on paper. This sends a message to your prefrontal cortex that it doesn’t have to hold these thoughts in short-term memory anymore.

Journaling also helps you recognise and label your emotions, which has been found to be the most effective strategy to calm down an emotional response.

4.Engage in a distracting activity:

One activity that is particularly helpful when the brain is highly emotionally activated is exercise.

Exercise is a positive outlet for the energy release in your body. It gets rid of adrenaline and releases endorphins (the feel good chemicals) leaving you in a more positive state of mind and thinking more clearly.

5.Once you have calmed down enough, then decide on a course of action.

Many times what has occurred in the situation we’re facing, is something we need to respond too.

By avoiding dealing with it indefinitely, can actually just be a stress response of “flight” and therefore continue the stress in your life.

Calm down enough that you can think rationally in the situation and respond in a way that you will not regret later.


It is normal to feel and want to respond to situations based on our feelings and level of stress, but this strategy almost always ends in negative results.

By interrupting and then reseting the natural stress response, we are able to respond thoughtfully and intelligently to challenging situations in life, and not get stuck in the process.


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