Sometimes I sit down to write and, before I know it, a simple message has turned complicated.
It’s the opposite of writer’s block.
Like a flash flood, the downpour of ideas comes all at once.
Suddenly I’m clinging for life to a tree branch while being carried by a current of thoughts and ideas. The waters rise fast and I cling with desperation to my branch for as long as I can. Then a strong wind rips the branch from my cold, pruny hands.
Exhausted, with nothing left to hold onto, I feel myself dropping under the surface. I bob my head up with quick gasps for air, but I know it is only a matter of time before I lose the fight.
Must. Find. Dry. Land.
This is usually when someone might suggest making an outline. Get my ideas on paper.
As if that ever works. Maybe it does for some people. But my neurodivergent brain does not need more thoughts and ideas in this moment.
More often than not, this approach only hastens the drowning.
I am gasping for air, struggling to breathe. And they want me to start blowing balloons.
What I need is a life raft out of my mind and into my body. I need to get back to matter. Feel my feet on solid ground.
This isn’t the time for decisions. When someone is drowning you throw them a life raft ASAP. You don’t ask them to choose how they want to be brought to land.
A Life Raft
Here’s a simple 3-step plan that has served as a trusty life raft for me in these situations. Maybe it will work for you, too.
There are lots of things you can do in this situation, but the best place to focus is the basics: movement, breath, and hydration.
1. Walk Away
Stand up. Step away from the screens. And walk. away.
Ideally move outside or to another room. Change your location.
Sitting in front of a screen will not help you in this moment. No matter how close your deadline looms, you need to surrender to the moment and walk away.
Abandon All Devices.
This is not the time to scroll your news feed. The last thing you need is more information.
2. Get Grounded
Ideally get outside. Ideally put your feet on the earth.
At the very least, remove your shoes and socks and feel your feet grounding into the floor.
If you have a horizon line, or trees, look toward them. If you don’t have nature available to you, bring awareness to your peripheral vision. Notice how much of your physical surroundings you can take in.
Move your body. You don’t need to go anywhere far. Just move your body and feel it move around. Feel your feet on the ground.
Do this for at least 3–5 minutes. You can set a timer.
3. Breathe + Hydrate
You may notice that your breath changes on its own in step 3. Bring some focused awareness to your breath with a breath count.
Here are 2 very simple breath count practices to calm your nervous system.
- exhales double the inhales: inhale for a count of 3, exhale for a count of 6. After a few rounds, extend this to a 4/8 pattern.
- box breathing: inhale/pause/exhale/pause — all to a count of 4.
You can also combine these to do a box breathing with the exhale count double the inhale count: inhale 4/pause 4/exhale 8/pause 4.
The counting is soothing for your nervous system and gives your mind something to do.
That said, if it feels too complicated, let it go and simply watch your breath.
Do this for 3–5 minutes.
Then drink a glass of water. Slowly. Notice the water moving through your mouth and down your throat and through your system. This will keep you connected to your body.
Stay away from your work — or at least that piece of it — for as long as you can. Ideally go back to something else and leave that alone for a while.
Stay out of your mind for as long as possible. Remember that flood waters eventually recede.
when drowning in thoughts
find refuge in your body
get out of your mind