At this time of year the idea of buying time might be appealing. So many opportunities to celebrate the season and so many additional demands on our time to get ready for it press us to our limits.
People respond in different ways to being pushed to their limits. Some seem to find an overdrive gear and sail through it , only to crash when it is all over. Some choose avoidance and “medicate” their way through it with their addiction of choice and procrastination. Some get grumpy, feeling like they are wearing a scratchy shirt all of the time. And some of us find the worst part of ourselves blurting out in stark contrast what has silently been bothering us for a while or a long time. We can no longer keep under cover what we want to say as all the insulation has gone from our overloaded wires. This not infrequently happens at family gatherings, during dinner!
A little walnut-sized organ, deep in our brain, has taken over. The amygdala is the fire alarm of our emotional system that warns us to fight, fly, or freeze when danger of any kind is sensed. All our memory files supply information of past dangers or pain, and if any part of a present situation matches up—the alarm goes off! Only our thinking brain in our prefrontal cortex can mediate our response to a false alarm as in “That was then; this is now.”
Buying time between the alarm and the thought makes the difference between reaction and response, between an outburst and a thoughtful response or thoughtful silence. The art of buying time requires practice, a mental biting of the tongue. The best practice is staying current with our own thoughts and feelings rather than trying to stuff them down or lock them in the basement It never works. Therapy can help in getting current and processing even very old data that is sill interfering with living our best life and being our best self.