Do you sometimes find yourself feeling stressed and anxious, but you don’t really know why? Maybe you’re working hard on a task at work or at home, but you’re finding it hard to concentrate. Perhaps you snap at people for no obvious reason, or you just have an unsettled feeling in the pit of your stomach. Those feelings are connected to a part of the brain that reacts automatically to what is happening to you. It’s called the amygdala and it’s located right at the bottom of the brain.

It’s good to be able to use your experience and deal with things without thinking, and that’s what the amygdala does. It enables you to drive, for example, without having to think carefully about when to change gear. But if there’s too much going on in the amygdala, it stops you being able to work well on things that need lots of concentration.

Breaks are good for you

It’s well known that taking a break from work at regular intervals is a good habit. Some advice suggests a five to ten minute break from your computer screen for every hour of work. Standing up and moving around can also benefit your physical health. In the same way a pause from concentration or thinking about work can be a great way of de-stressing.

A pause for your mind

You could pause and simply spend a few minutes looking out of the window, but there is another technique that can help identify what’s causing your amygdala to go into overdrive, giving you stressed and unsettled feelings.

  • Take a piece of paper and pen and set a timer for three minutes.
  • Let your thoughts do whatever they want, and write down each thought that goes through your mind.
  • After you’ve written a thought down, let it go and see what comes up next. Don’t try to think of things. You aren’t trying to create a to-do list. Just let the thoughts come and go.
  • At the end of three minutes you’ll have a list of the things that were going on in the background while you were trying to work.

You might be surprised at what comes up.

Some of them could be things you need to do but haven’t had time for. At this point you could add them to a to-do list and create a plan for when you can work on them. That should help take the pressure off because you’ve dealt with them – you have a plan.

Other things on your list might be events or situations that have upset you and are getting in the way of your concentration. Just noticing and acknowledging them can help you to process them and settle down.

The whole pause may take only five minutes, but it could massively improve your work rate on the task you’re trying to do and make you feel a bit calmer and happier too.