Toddlers have meltdowns and throw temper tantrums all the time. Obviously, because they’re toddlers. It’s expected and accepted. Adult meltdowns? Not so acceptable. However, in high-stress situations, it seems that adults are just as susceptible to meltdowns as little children. I’ve seen grown men and women cry, scream, and carry on just like toddlers when they’re overwhelmed, frustrated, exhausted, or stressed. (I’ve been there, too.) Pressure-cooker situations have the power to turn us into the worst version of ourselves if we don’t take intentional steps to diffuse them. Today I’m sharing ways to avoid adult meltdowns in high-stress situations.
1 | Eat ahead of time and throughout
There’s a reason why this is first on my list: nothing makes me miserable like being hungry does, especially in high-stress situations. I get incredibly frustrated and short-fused, and I can be really ugly with my words. I’ve learned the importance of shutting my mouth when I’m “hangry” (hungry + angry) so I don’t have to apologize a dozen times once I’ve eaten, and my husband has learned the importance of making food an immediate priority when I mention that I need to eat (he can go longer than I can without eating before becoming hangry).
A couple weekends ago, Riley and I had an incredibly stressful day of returning lots of heavy, damaged furniture (that saga here). Before we dove into our task, I made us a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast. We still had a few moments throughout the day, but I know that eating ahead of time curbed a lot of our frustration. Additionally, while we were out, I brought snacks and we stopped by the IKEA food court to eat something when we were there. Again, in its entirety, that day was anything but pleasant, but fueling our bodies with food undoubtedly diffused some of the stress. Make sure to eat before and during a high-stress situation.
2 | Acknowledge and problem-solve stressors ahead of time
I used to live in a dream world where I thought that if I just pretended/imagined that a potentially high-stress situation wouldn’t be stressful, I could avoid melting down (becoming upset, short-tempered, angry, etc.). This is false. Very false. Turns out, the realist and problem solver in me does exponentially better when I actually acknowledge potential stressors and plan ahead with solutions.
Being married, most high-stress situations I encounter are with my husband. Not because he’s highly stressful–quite the opposite, actually–but because we do life together now. We’ve gotten better about having intentional conversations before tackling potentially frustrating projects or tasks or otherwise walking into potentially stressful situations. We’ll discuss what the ideal outcome would be, what the worst possible outcome would be, and what the realistic outcome will most likely be. We then problem solve ahead of time and figure out how we’ll handle things if/when they go wrong.
Mental and physical preparation is key. When I feel prepared to handle an undesirable situation or problem, I can handle it like a mature adult. Oftentimes, when I don’t feel prepared, an internal meltdown is more likely to ensue.
For example, a few months ago we had to catch a 6:00am flight out of Dallas, which is an hour away. Add on another one and a half or two hours to park, shuttle to the airport, get through security, and make our way to the gate, plus time to wake up and get ready, and our alarms would have to be set for 2:30am or so. Extreme exhaustion + stressful airport navigation + driving for an hour (which I hate) = the perfect recipe for disaster. Months before our trip, we discussed the situation and decided to get a hotel room next to the airport for the night before our flight. This allowed us to get more sleep (reducing our exhaustion), eliminate a long drive (reducing my anxiety), and to generally have a smoother early morning, thus setting our trip up for success. In hindsight, this was a very wise decision. Our morning was smooth and seamless and not at all stressful. We were able to enjoy the beginning stages of our trip without the mess. If we hadn’t acknowledged these stressors, I very seriously doubt that our morning would’ve gone even half as smoothly as it did.
If you can, acknowledge and problem-solve stressors ahead of time.
3 | Have “escapes” in place
As I mentioned above, I hate driving or riding in the car for long distances. I don’t mind driving or being a passenger for short distances, but I do not enjoy either for anything more than 30 minutes or so. Being in the car causes me a lot of stiffness and back pain, the high speed roads in Texas (often 70-80mph) are stressful (though convenient), other drivers cause me a lot of anxiety, and at present, the greater DFW area is undergoing an immense amount of road construction, which is a legitimate nightmare. All of that combined, and yeah, I don’t like being in the car for long distances.
Because of this, I can become very irritable and anxious when traveling by car. Usually, when I’m in the car for longer than 30 minutes, it’s because Riley and I are going somewhere together, so let’s discuss that scenario. First of all, he [almost] always drives. This allows me to “escape” so that I don’t arrive at our destination completely frazzled and stressed out. I usually bring my iPad with me, tether it to my phone, and surf the web, meal plan, answer emails, or browse Pinterest when we’re driving long distances (I don’t get car sick). We can still have a conversation as he drives, but getting my mind off the road (and my stiff back) helps a lot. (This also makes Riley more relaxed because I’m not bringing high-stress energy into the car and passenger-seat driving.)
When I don’t bring my iPad, I’ve brought magazines, mail I need to open, or our dog Charley (when possible). This small change to traveling long distances, which is common in Texas, has negated many almost-meltdowns and strengthened my marriage (for the reasons listed above). When you know you’re walking into a potentially stressful situation, plan to have comfortable “escapes” in place, whether they’re something to do, someone to talk to, something to read, something to visualize, something to listen to, or a number of other self-soothing techniques. (One of my mentees, Samantha, is a professional counselor and writes a lot about self care; check out her posts 50 Self Care Strategies to Reduce Stress and Getting Grounded: 5 Simple Tasks to Bring You Back to the Present for great information and ideas.)
4 | Stop and pray
There is power in stopping to settle your spirit and pray amidst a high-stress situation. Just two weekends ago, Riley and I were both level 10 frustrated, annoyed, angry, and upset about our bedroom furniture (story here). He was ugly to me, I slammed the door on him. We were both DONE. What I wanted to do was grab my keys, leave the house, and do my own thing for the day. No doubt Riley wanted to do the same, but neither of us could. We had to deal with the situation at hand.
Sitting in the office on this day, me teary-eyed and him red with frustration, I asked if we could pray. To be honest, just about the last thing I felt like doing in that moment was hold Riley’s hands and pray, but I swallowed my pride and did it anyway. We asked God for patience, kindness, and love for one another, for the logistics of the day to go well, to keep us safe as we drove and loaded/unloaded heavy furniture, and for peace. The rest of the day was incredibly exhausting, but those five minutes spent praying turned us around. We were kind and considerate toward one another from that point forward, and we were actually able to enjoy each other’s company despite our circumstances.
Had we not taken a moment to metaphorically readjust our sails, I am confident that the situation-induced anger and frustration toward each other would’ve continued and we would’ve gone to bed that night with damage to our relationship. Because we spent a moment praying, we refocused our energies on solving the problem at hand rather than dragging our relationship through the mud needlessly.
5 | Focus on the next 5 minutes
Complicated projects, multi-leg trips, monumental tasks–all of these things are overwhelming and stressful. I most often “melt down” when I’m frustrated, and I’m most often frustrated when I’m overwhelmed. Something that I’ve found to be incredibly helpful is to focus on only the next five minutes. (Or 10, or 15, or 30, or hour…whatever makes sense for you.)
Instead of drowning in the deep sea of to-dos and trying to digest all the steps required to complete something, if I focus on what I can do to move forward in just the next five minutes, I find that I can actually make progress without the anxiety and toddler-like “I don’t wanna-s!” For example, there was a day last week when my home was in complete disarray. Everything seemed to be out of place, we had empty drawers and full laundry baskets, our kitchen was a mess, and our house desperately needed to be cleaned. This was overwhelming to me. “I don’t have six hours to clean today,” I thought. But I have five minutes to do the dishes. After I did the dishes, I wiped down the kitchen counters. Then, I made our bed and threw in a load of laundry. By the same time the next day, our house was back in order.
Small things add up. Do what you can now, only focusing on the next five minutes. Then the next five, then the next five, and so on. This way of thinking will diffuse high-stress situations more than you know.
Turns out, avoiding adult meltdowns is a lot like avoiding toddler meltdowns: eat, plan ahead, have “escapes” (or distractions) in place, invite God in, and do just one thing at a time. Sounds a lot like managing little ones! 😉
// What triggers you to melt down? How do you avoid adult meltdowns?
Thank you for reading! You can find me online on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. If you’d like to be alerted whenever I publish a new post, you can follow me on Bloglovin’ or subscribe via email. Check out my fun tees in my Etsy shop and listen to my weekly podcast about simplifying life, Simplify Everything! Are you a blogger too? Check out my Blogger Mentorship Program.