Overcoming Brain Lock

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MW Editor’s Note: Mentoring Warriors welcomes coach, podcaster, and speaker Adam Gragg as a guest author. Adam brings 25 years of expertise to the age-old challenge of managing our emotions. Check out this very helpful article. Be sure to follow the links in this article to some great resources that will help you manage your emotions.

12 Tools For Regulating Your Emotions: How To Calm Yourself When Overwhelmed

If you want to excel in your career and your relationships, emotional regulation is a must-have skill. The consequences of unhealthy coping mechanisms (e.g., pornography, alcoholism, avoidance, overeating, etc.) are significant.

When I got up yesterday morning, instead of my normal reading, prayer, and journaling routine, I checked my email. I wasn’t spiritually in a good place, and reading a specific email triggered some intense irrational fear.

I reacted by venting my fear and anxiety on someone I love. It was a horrible way to start my day that could have been avoided if I had stepped back from my thoughts and feelings and seen they were based on lies.

Knowing your triggers (situations, people, places) in advance will prepare you to face them when they come. Knowing how you typically react will help you as well. Maybe you shut down and avoid, catastrophize, or lash out. When I’m stressed and anxious, I can get controlling, overeat carbs, and isolate. Knowing that I have these tendencies is empowering.

When emotionally flooded, your brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, overrides the rational part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex. I call this a “brain lock”, where my brain becomes useless, except for fleeing the situation, fighting whatever seems threatening, or freezing up.

When In “Brain Lock”

  • I lose my sense of humor
  • My problem-solving abilities stink
  • I take almost everything personally
  • My social skills dwindle
  • I’m much less creative
  • I see almost everything as negative or threatening
  • I’m miserable

12 Calming Actions

Here are 12 actions that have helped me when I’m anxious. My challenge is to recognize my anxiety in the moment and do something healthy rather than destructive.

1. Focusing on Goals

Write your top 3 goals for the next 6 months on an index card. Pull it out whenever you’re flooded.

2. Organizing

Take 10 minutes to organize your pictures, files, iPhone apps, desk, room, or a bookshelf.

3. Reading

Get uninterrupted time reading a good book. Here is a list of some of my all-time favorite books.

4. Think About a Hobby

Flip through a magazine or research a favorite hobby. Go fishing, hiking, golfing, and dream about eating a great meal – all in your mind.

5. Stop Avoiding

Often we’re overwhelmed because we are avoiding facing a core issue. Being overwhelmed is “safer” than facing a fear. Face whatever it is you know needs to be addressed. Be assertive, and vulnerable, and let go of the outcome.

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” – Viktor Frankl (author of Man’s Search for Meaning)

6. Get Physically Active

Exercise helps prevent “brain lock” by engaging your prefrontal cortex once “brain lock” has set in. A walk for 10 minutes might be all you need.

7. Listen

Listening to an audiobook, podcast, or music can help. Choose uplifting content, not content that fuels your fears and negative emotions.

8. How To Videos

YouTube can be a valuable resource. You can learn new skills and find inspiration on YouTube if you are disciplined in you content consumption. I’m a fan of Ted Talks for this purpose.

9. Journal

Journaling your thoughts, ideas, emotions, and more is nearly always great for calming down a flooded mind. Our thoughts are much clearer on paper. Journaling moves brain activity away from the emotional center (amygdala) and activates our rationality (prefrontal cortex). Here are some journaling prompts.

10. Gratitude

Thinking about and writing down what you’re grateful for can do wonders. 

11. Breath

Take 2 minutes to focus on your breathing. Breathe for 4 seconds in, stop at the top of the breath for 1 second, and breathe out for 4 seconds. When you blow the breath out, act as if you are blowing it out through a straw. This will calm down your central nervous system.

Light a candle

12. Call a Friend

This is usually the last thing I want to do when stressed, yet the most helpful action I can take. I dislike admitting I need help, yet “going it alone” is not the path out of my stress.

Make your own list of healthy coping skills and try a few of the above. See which ones help the most. 

Warrior On!

Adam Gragg
Coadh|Podcaster|Speaker at Decide Your Legacy | Website

Adam Gragg founded Decide Your Legacy in 2012. He has been a coachbloggerpodcasterspeaker, and licensed mental health professional for 25 years. His passion is helping people develop the self-confidence & clarity needed to face their fears and LIVE their legacy. You can reach Adam at


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