Improve your relationships: Practice this 8-second rule

Most of us experience a rush of roughly 60,000 thoughts a day. When you consider that you respond to your partner, kids, co-workers, and strangers while all of these thoughts race in your mind, it’s no wonder you often encounter conflict, meltdowns, and end the evening feeling overwhelmed. At doctor appointments, inability to manage stress becomes part of the conversation because stress serves as the leading cause of common colds and sleepless nights - yet we can’t seem to immobilize these points of stress. The immediacy our society requires to urgently respond forces us to make quick decisions, reinforced by our stressed mood, without fully considering the choices available and consequences of our speedy responses.

MORE FROM PSYCHOTHERAPIST MARY JO RAPINI

You can minimize impulsive responses with a simple practice: take a slow, deliberate 8- to 10-second pause in the middle of your conversations, coffee breaks, or in traffic. During that pause, release tension by breathing deeply and give yourself permission to stop for 10 seconds.

It sounds easy, but consistently thinking about and practicing it before responding urgently is not. Research indicates that this exercise changes your brain and body in a way that helps you better connect with yourself and the person you are talking with. Below I have outlined four benefits of the deliberative pause - and don’t be surprised if you’re able to grab your children’s attention more easily after you’ve committed to an 8 second pause before responding to them!

1. Halts the flight/fight response, slowing your heart rate, respiration, and cortisol release. Our body’s flight/fight response rushes adrenaline throughout our body and disrupts our ability to make sound decisions. Pausing for several seconds can lower your blood pressure, release tension, and prevent or minimize migraines. Stress suppresses our immune system, but an 8 second pause will help boost it.

2. Indicates to your partner to be present in the moment and breathe, minimizing arguments and conflict. Let’s be honest: when stressed and overwhelmed, your tone of voice and choice of words are not always kind - especially to those you love most. When you give yourself permission to breathe and take your time responding to your partner, you place yourself in a better position to answer thoughtfully and minimize conflict.

3. Increases patience with your children and others during transitional times. Some of a family’s most stressful times of day include hurried mornings, homework, and bedtime. Arriving home from work, changing, and preparing dinner can incite feelings of irritability and frustration. When your child beckons you to help with homework during these busy times, your comments may appear angry and terse. Allowing yourself an 8 to 10 second pause can provide a calming effect, permitting you to choose your words more wisely and preventing a dramatic outburst caused by something you said or did under the influence of overwhelming stress.

4. Enhances your self-image. Pausing isn’t always convenient, but it offers a chance to ground ourselves in the moment and slow our brain. It’s a small act that makes a huge impact on our ability to remain in control of what we say and do. Life happens - but reacting with frustration, irritability and urgency doesn’t bring out the best in us, and we may regret what we said or did in the moment. You will like yourself better when you choose to breathe and stay still for 10 seconds before responding.

Humans are not machines. We rarely communicate with empathy or compassion when hurt, frustrated, or overwhelmed with stress. Allowing yourself to take an 8 to 10 second pause is crucial for your emotional health. Place a note on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror or phone reminding you to pause, and practice it as many times as you can each day. At work, you’ll harmonize better with others. At home, you’ll reduce conflict. At night, you’ll sleep better feeling more appreciative of the way you reacted towards others.