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  • Writer's pictureWerner Briedenhann

What to do when you don't know what to do?

Five helpful ways to deal with your chaos tornado.

Therapy couch at a crossroad.

Sometimes, we feel stuck or overwhelmed, and we don't know what to do. If we don't take a minute or two to figure out what's happening, we could make things worse. Spiralling down in a chaos tornado and fueling our distress.

I often see a storm brewing on my therapy couch. And more often than not I get asked for the fastest way out of a stressful situation. The fastest way isn't always the best option. So, here are five helpful ways to gather yourself, take some time and figure out what to do next when you don't know what to do.

For immediate effect, STOP!

Stop sign behind a therapy couch.

This technique is to help you move from autopilot to being present and intentional.

Stopping for a moment might be the most difficult part. Come to a complete standstill. Maybe get to a quiet, comfortable place if you can.

Take a few deep breaths. Focus on your breathing as much as you can. Notice the rise and the fall of your chest and the pace of your breathing for a couple of minutes.

Observe your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Are you anxious about a news article you read? Or hearing an irritating sound or feeling cold? Are your thoughts on the go about a decision you need to make? Just observe- no judgment or need to change anything in the moment.

Proceed with intent. Ask yourself what needs your immediate attention. Or can you do anything to change what you observed in a helpful manner?

Don't add, just subtract.

Brain calculator on a therapy couch.

I'm not talking about maths or doing Sudoku. When we are caught up in a chaos tornado, we don't want to add to the distress. When we don't know what to do, we tend to think in circles and can't see a way out. And sometimes, we end up making things worse.

Take a moment, make a pros and cons list or ask for an objective opinion on the issue before forging ahead into the uncertainty. It might be worth it to talk to a friend or a psychologist near you.

Clarify your goals and values.

Take time and reflect on your core values and long-term goals for a moment. Understanding where you are heading longer term may help you figure out what to do next. It may also help you clarify how and why you ended up in your current moment of uncertainty. This is a learning opportunity, not a failure.

Take small steps into the uncertainty.

When you don't know what to do and figuring a way out, take small steps at first. When we take small steps, it makes the overall situation less daunting. It also allows you to change direction with more flexibility if needed. And please celebrate the small victories! You worked hard to get there.

You are allowed to change your mind.

We sometimes don't know what to do next because we feel guilt or shame for having changed our minds. We work ourselves up into a frenzy over wanting to save face, which usually only adds to our distress. You are allowed to say no. You are allowed to say yes. You are allowed to say I've changed my mind. Acknowledging to ourselves that we want something different might just be the jumpstart out of uncertainty.

Sometimes figuring out what to do takes a bit of time. We get caught up in our thinking and then kinda forget where we were going in the first place and why. Asking for help might feel like a waste of time when you are in a hurry, but it could be how you see your next step.


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