Go to Time Out!

Updated: Feb 24

In my childhood, my parents would occasionally go on a well-deserved night out, and my six siblings and I would be looked after by Giselle, the lady next door. On these occasions, our noisy and boisterous behaviour would escalate fairly quickly and it wasn’t long before Giselle was making a certain hand sign we hadn’t seen before (not that one:). She had made the hand signal to take a time out, and looking into our confused faces, she explained that it meant that we had to take some time away from each other and perhaps play by ourselves. My sisters and I looked at one another and cracked up laughing. Poor Giselle.

Though Giselle might not have had much success using this technique for behavioural control with us on these particular occasions, she was actually right on the money in terms of emotional regulation. Time outs are not just for children and they can be used effectively by adults to break an emotionally reactive cycle.

When we start reacting with fear or anger to a stimulus/situation (either real or imaginary) which may not be in proportion to the actual seriousness of the situation, we have a split second to take action before our rational and logical thoughts are hijacked and replaced by unrealistic or irrational thoughts. These unhelpful thoughts and physical sensations trigger an emotional reaction which can snowball if uninterrupted, leaving us overwhelmed and at the mercy of our feelings.

When we quickly recognise that we are experiencing anxiety or anger and take some time out by going to a quiet place and practicing some focusing techniques, it gives us time to recalibrate emotionally and allow our logical brain to step in once again, giving us the opportunity to reassess the situation from a more realistic perspective.

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