How to pause


Do you feel exhausted, overwhelmed or depleted right now? There’s nothing wrong with you.


“Our efforts at connection are insufficient against the responses of our nervous system.”
 — Christine Runyan, Clinical Psychologist


My clients land in a Zoom session with me in a state of distraction: they’re rushing in from the last meeting, haven’t eaten, and need to pee. They apologize for running late, and apologize when it’s time to stop so they can jump right on the next call.
They say they’re “hanging in there,” “powering through,” “cracking,” “swamped.” You know, drowning. So, we take a pause.


Try this: Take three minutes for yourself right now.

No, really. Set a timer. Put both feet flat on the floor. Put one hand on your heart. Long exhale.
Turn off your screen and close your eyes. After three minutes, notice how you feel.
Remember: You can give yourself three minutes any time you choose. Like right now.


When the nervous system is in balance, we’re able to evaluate, prioritize, and think creatively.
But we’re still living under persistent threats. Our bodies are alert to danger from disease and society, further stressed by the effects of isolation. The nervous system keeps responding, commanding: fight, flight, freeze.

How do you expect to lead, or even get your work done under these conditions?

The answer is in the pause.




“Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity.”


Clinical psychologist Christine Runyon offers these scientific strategies. Each of them creates a positive physiological response in the nervous system. Try one:

1. Name it. This is hard to do. It requires you to pause. It requires you to get curious about how this very real neurological stress is showing up for you. It may require facing losses and grief that are still not done with you. But the good part is that the very act of ‘naming it’ and the mental effort of curiosity will turn your thinking brain back on and quiet your nervous system.

2. Exhale. A long exhale calms and quiets your lizard brain.

3. Grounding. Placing both feet flat on the floor sends a signal of stability and safety. It’s the literal counter-stance to the flight response.

4. Common Sense(s). The senses of smell, sound, and touch send messages of comfort to your brain. A fragrance or music you love in your workspace will do. Placing your own hand on your heart, or wrapping your arms around yourself works.

5. Imagination. Worry is a form of imagination that sets off the stress response. So imagining a positive outcome, pleasure, or favorite place lights the thinking, creative part of the brain and starts to offset worry and fearfulness.




At The Table, I coach Fearless Leaders (that’s you) to pause, name what’s really going on for you, and reacquaint yourself with your creative, fearless mind so you can think again.
Then we can get to work on the pragmatic leadership challenges ahead.




“Between stimulus and response there is a space.

In that space is our power to choose our response.”



Images: Noguchi Museum, NYC; deYoung Museum, San Francisco; Versailles
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