Love life, but not my coping skills
July 26, 2008 3:39 PM   Subscribe

I feel paralyzed in certain situations. Any tips to help me engage better with them?

When I get nervous, either because of too much stimulus or because it's a new situation, I tend to shut down. My mind stops working (especially my memory; it's like I can't remember anything except what happened a few seconds ago), and I end up either staring back at the person or I repeat what they said as though I was stupid. This happens when I'm overwhelmed, when there are hostile emotions involved, or something in the situation triggers a bad memory or reaction from the past. It's like I have too much information coming right at me and I can't process any of it quickly enough--so I don't.

Obviously that can create a lot of havoc in my life. I can seek more low-stress situations, but paradoxically enough, I really like to learn and try new things. And I like talking to people. I can't always excuse myself and take a time out before re-engaging in whatever conversation or thing that I'm doing. So, does anyone have any suggestions for helping me to calm down in high-stress situations?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Keep a list of your triggers. One of mine is someone becoming personal. They can rant and rave at me all day long, but the second they turn it onto me, I go into aggressive mode.

CBT might help, or at least it looks like it could. I have looked into it, but not applied it yet, so I can't say for sure. The theory looks sound enough, though.
posted by Solomon at 4:27 PM on July 26, 2008

The problems you're dealing with sound exactly like those described by the book The Highly Sensitive Person, which has a lot of suggestions for strategies for dealing with being overstimulated.

It also helps me to remember to breathe, especially if I focus on taking deep, slow breaths. The nice thing about this is you can do it anywhere, anytime.

You might also try creating a kind of anchor--either a word or an image that you come to associate with feeling calm and centered through practice, and which you can call up when you feel stressed or paralyzed.
posted by overglow at 5:26 PM on July 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a form of anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will help. To learn more about it, there are two great books: Mind Over Mood, and the Feel Good Handbook.

Anxiety is a normal facet of human experience. The good news is that with practice, anxiety can be dampened and often ultimately eliminated. (CBT is a powerful technique with many different applications. The Mind Over Mood book, for example is popular among athletes who want to improve their mental game)

You didn't mention the specific situations that give you trouble, but if it is anything to do with meeting and talking to strangers or getting up in front of people, I would highly recommend Toastmasters.
posted by storybored at 5:53 PM on July 26, 2008

I was also going to suggest The Highly Sensitive Person. And you also might want to talk to your doctor about taking something like a beta blocker in your pressure situations. Fast acting, does not sedate or alter you in any way.
posted by FlyByDay at 10:25 PM on July 26, 2008

Sounds somewhat like a panic attack. I've had good results from therapy + medication.
posted by desjardins at 7:48 AM on July 27, 2008

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