• Timeouts are pattern interruptions to keep you from losing it
  • When you feel like you’re losing control, call a timeout to calm down
  • Try out different timeout tactics and use the one that works best for you
You’re just about staying on top of everything - right up until the universe starts working against you.

You’re frantically rushing to meet a deadline and someone just scheduled a pointless stupid meeting that’s gonna tank your progress.

Someone else just sent a 200-page document to the printer a second before you hit the print button. Now you’ve got to wait for their phonebook-sized print job to get done and you can feel your blood starting to boil.

And last night, you had a big shouting session with your other half and you’re still going over it in your mind. You don’t need all this other bullshit on top of that.

You can feel a major tension headache brewing. Then the cold sweat under your armpits makes its appearance.

You’re one degree away from throwing yourself down on the floor, pounding your fists and feet on the floor like a two year old with a temper tantrum.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence.

Between the pressures of work and family life, you’re always on the brink of a meltdown. When it all gets too much, you want to flip the switch and hit toddler mode - well, the adult version that is.

Instead of acting out your negative emotions, you need to learn how to press the pause button and give yourself an emotional “timeout.”

It’s a much-needed chance to “let go” and relax before you get to the breaking point. You’re putting your focus on something other than the thing that’s triggering you.

It’s crucial for keeping your mental health in check. Plus, it keeps your personal brand intact since you’re not taking your anger or frustration into meetings or calls.

It’s a lot easier to communicate effectively and do your best work when you’re in the right headspace.

It’s a healthy way to deal with challenging emotions so you don’t have to resort to immature tantrums to blow off steam. 

How “Timeouts” Work

“Timeouts” were made famous by Supernanny Jo Frost.

You might even have used them on your kids.

When your child misbehaves and is in full-on temper tantrum mode, you interrupt the pattern of behavior by putting them in a “timeout.”

This can take different forms, including standing in the corner, sitting on the “naughty chair,” or going to another room to cool down. Whatever the method, the aim is the same. You’re trying to bring a sense of calm and bring negative emotions like anger under control.

You can use the same fundamentals for yourself as an adult. But for you, a timeout is basically a form of meditation.

Don’t roll your eyes - hear us out.

Meditation gives you a precious few moments of quiet time. Most of us struggle to get this kind of peace normally since every day is a full-on frantic mess from the minute you get up.

In sports, a timeout is called in a game to give the players a break, boost morale and figure out the next step strategy.

You can do exactly the same in your workday.

Whenever you’re feeling stressed, angry, frustrated, or overwhelmed, you can call a timeout to take a mental break, refresh yourself and get your thoughts sorted out.

It's about putting physical distance and time between yourself and the situation that triggered you so you can cool down and regain self-control. And, to stop you from giving that asshole coworker a giant forehead slap.

Even a few moments of “breathing yourself off the ledge” lets you handle stressful situations with calm and poise. It’s super simple and it can make a big difference in how you feel.

Here’s an example of it in action.

You get a rude-ass email that really makes your blood boil. Your first instinct is to fire off an angry reply. One that’s going to get you in serious hot water. And that’s likely what you’ll do if you’re still in “toddler mode.”

A timeout avoids the drama and stress that’ll inevitably come your way.

Instead of sending that angry email, you distance yourself from the situation - mentally and physically. You leave your desk, take a walk outside, mentally cool down and take slow deep breaths to lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

When you come back to it later, you’re in a more rational mindset and you can see how damaging your actions would have been if you had fired a missile back at the sender. That would have escalated things and it could’ve spun out of control.

But, you kept your cool by giving yourself a timeout.

You don’t need a ton of time for a timeout. In fact, you can do one-minute meditations that are incredibly easy to fit into your day. When it’s this easy to take a timeout, there are no excuses. Even if your boss is an absolute control freak.

When To Give Yourself A Timeout

Emotional stress ruins your ability to think rationally. It’s not your fault. It’s just your body’s way of trying to keep you alive. Anything that’s not vital for survival shuts down so you can face the threat.

This is great if you need to run away from an angry bear but it doesn’t work so well when the threat is an argument with your boss or spouse. You need your rational brain to be on its A-game here but ironically, it’s not active when you’re on high alert.

The only solution is to separate yourself from the threat. Knowing when to walk away from a situation saves your sanity.

You’ll get better at it with time and you’ll quickly recognize your personal triggers. But when you’re first starting out with calling timeouts on yourself, some situations are more likely to make you lose it. 

1) You’re Angry At A Co-Worker

Some co-workers are guaranteed to push your buttons. That’s just a fact. And it’s hard not to get sucked into the emotional battle when a coworker fucking pisses you off.

Your first instinct is to hit ‘em hard and get even. The rational part of your brain knows this is an incredibly stupid move but your ego doesn’t give a shit. It wants revenge.

This is where a timeout can come into its own. It gives you the chance to be in charge of your reaction so your rational brain can take over.

You’re not letting the work jerk get the upper hand. You’re just managing your emotions so you can get your point across calmly and confidently. Responding like an immature teen will only make you look like an idiot.

When you start getting riled up by a coworker, take yourself out of it, physically and mentally. It’s not so you can avoid them or let them think they’ve won. It’s to give yourself the time and space to choose how you’ll respond when you come back to it. 

2) You’re Under Pressure And Frustrated At Work

On-the-job stress can creep up on you before you know it. Or it can hit you like a ton of bricks. Either way, it’s a major cause of meltdowns at work. The pressure and stress may be out of your hands but your reaction to it is something you can control.

A timeout can help you do this. You can only focus for so long, then you hit the wall. This window gets shorter when you’re under pressure so it’s easier to start losing it.

Stepping away is smart when you feel your emotions getting the better of you. Powering through is only going to add more pressure, frustration and resentment. 

3) You’re Stressed By A Big Deadline

Your neck and lower back aches from being chained to your desk. You’ve got digital eye strain from staring at your screen. And, dead butt syndrome is in full effect.

Despite all of the physical warning signs, you’re pushing towards your deadline but getting there feels as far away as ever.

Plowing on isn’t going to make it any better. If anything, it’s going to hurt your progress even more.

Here’s where a timeout can give you time to decompress and recharge, which will ultimately give you that much-needed productivity boost to get you across the finish line.

Taking a short break and letting off the gas allows your mind to relax in a different direction. This can be just what you need.

It’s no coincidence that your best ideas come in the shower. Your brain is focused on something relaxing and therapeutic. And, it allows your subconscious to work things out in the background.

4) You’ve Had A Fight With Your Spouse Or Kids

A timeout can work when you’ve fought with your family too.

Think about all the times when those arguments with your spouse or kids are escalating and things are at an impasse. Both sides are fuming and neither side is budging. Continuing to push through isn’t the answer here.

The key to getting past the roadblock is oftentimes some separation.

This short 3-minute video sums it up nicely:

VIDEO: Adult Time Outs
YOUTUBE: Jennifer Westcott
LENGTH: 03:11
Summary points:
  • Give yourself a timeout when you’re getting nowhere in an argument
  • Blow the whistle and call a timeout and set a time to come back to it
  • A timeout will enable a more productive conversation later on
Let the other side know you’ll take a timeout if things start to get out of control. It might feel good to leave Dickhead Dave hanging when you skip out on a confrontation at work but don’t do the same with your spouse or kids. Make sure they know you’ll continue the discussion once you’ve cooled down.

Say something like, “I really need to take a break from this but we can pick it up again when I come back in an hour” so they know what to expect.

How To Spot When A Timeout Needs To Happen

Those are just a few of the situations that can warrant a timeout but it’s not an exhaustive list. There are tons of situations at work and at home where you’ve been pushed right to the edge of your tolerance and patience.

You know where your limit is.

The one thing they all have in common is the potential to trigger stress, anger, and frustration that can show themselves in the following forms.

1) You’ve Got Physical Signs Of Stress

Your palms start sweating.

Your head feels like it’s about to explode.

Your heart is bursting out of your chest.

When your body starts giving you these kinds of signals, it’s telling you to get the hell out of a situation. It’s the stress response and your cortisol levels are through the roof.

It’s only a matter of minutes before you lose it. A timeout snaps you out of fight-or-flight mode and back to normality. 

2) Your Snark Meter Is Turned Up High 

When you can’t stop making sarcastic or angry comments about your coworkers in your head, it’s time for a timeout.

I wish that asshole would just shut the fuck up.

I’m not sober enough to deal with this shit.

This is when the asshole in your head is taking over all your thoughts and actions. Its ego is in full control. And when this happens, bad shit is gonna happen.

You need to defuse the situation.

3) You’re About To Explode

Keeping a lid on your emotions is virtually impossible without a timeout. It acts as a circuit breaker or a pressure relief valve.

It’s like pulling the emergency cord to stop a runaway train in its tracks. If nothing stops it, there’ll be carnage.

Your emotions are the same. When they start coming to the surface like an exploding volcano, it’s time to hit the pause button and cool things down. 

Timeout Tactics To Cool Down

For a timeout to work really well, you need to get up from your desk or wherever you may be and go somewhere else. Where you choose to go isn’t so important as long as you take yourself to a place that helps you calm down.

Staying in the same environment doesn’t give your rational brain a chance to kick in because it’ll still be surrounded by the same negative vibe of that space.

So give yourself permission to walk away and do what you need to do to refocus. Don’t feel guilty about doing it. A timeout is a necessity when you’re about to lose it, not an option you can put aside for later.

There’s no right length for a timeout. It can be as long as it needs to be. You might be able to regroup in a few minutes when you’re out of the situation. If you’re super agitated, it’s going to take longer to get back to normal, maybe even a few days.

Once things are back to a normal level, you can get back in the zone with work.

1) Do A Breathing Meditation In A Quiet Place

Find a quiet and peaceful spot that will let you get away from the madness and just chillax for a bit. Going to this place whenever you give yourself a timeout signals to your brain that it’s time to press the reset button.

But it doesn’t have to be the same place every time. Mix it up.

An empty conference room.

The bathroom - yup, toilet meditations are a real thing.

Outside on the patio or balcony.

Your car - if that’s the only quiet place you can find.

You can find more tips on this ultimate newbie’s guide to meditating at work.

Wherever it is, spend a few moments on breathwork. Focus solely on this. Close your eyes and just breathe slowly. Feel the air flowing in through your nose and out through your nose. 

2) Go For A Walk Outside

An outdoor timeout is a really smart move. Physical activity helps burn off the adrenaline that’s coursing through your veins so you can think more clearly.

It also gets more blood flowing to your brain. You feel more energized and ready to do awesome work after even a short walk. So it makes sense to combine the two and go for a timeout walk.

Plus, micro-exercises like this can help you hit your step target for the day too.

If there’s greenery nearby, go walk there. It gives you that calm space to recenter and you can take advantage of the therapeutic benefits of walking nature.

3) Take A Tea Or Coffee Break Away From Your Desk

A tea or coffee (or cofftea) break is the perfect chance to take a timeout. But here’s the thing. You need to get up from your desk and take that break away from your workspace.

Take your drink break to the next level with a coffee meditation. Find a quiet spot and savor every sip. You’ll be feeling calmer in minutes.

Not a big coffee drinker? You can use the same tips with tea too. 

4) Do Some Adult Coloring At Your Desk

Coloring isn’t just for kids but you can take a page out of their book for your timeouts.

Ever watch a kid coloring?

They’re in another world and totally oblivious to reality. You can do the same.

Adult coloring is one of the best ways to manage work stress because it eases your mind into a relaxed yet focused state.

You’re in a meditative state while you’re coloring. Your stress is redirected and you’ve stopped thinking about your crazy to-do list, the fires you’ve got to put out or the way Douchebag Derek pisses you off.

You’re just “in the moment” of coloring.

Plus, it’s low pressure. No-one cares if you go outside the lines. You can’t screw it up. 

5) Write Out Your Emotions And Then Shred Them

Channeling and getting your emotions out of your system is another way to give yourself a timeout.

This is just another way for you to “vent” and get all of that bad mojo out of your system. Only in this method, you’re not talking but writing it all down on a piece of paper.

Jot down everything that’s stressing you out, frustrating you, pissing you off etc. Then, feed it through the paper shredder and watch and listen as it’s shredded to bits.

Releasing your negative emotions and shredding them is hugely satisfying. You’re literally seeing them disappear. As they go through the shredder, visualize your stress and emotions leaving your body and being destroyed. 

Give Yourself A Timeout To Reset

All the bullshit you have to deal with day-in and day-out takes its toll.

Between asshole coworkers, the many plates you have to keep spinning and the pressure of balancing work and family life, it gets too much sometimes. You’re only human and you can only take so much before you lose it.

Instead of the toddler tantrum that’s your usual go-to reaction, it’s time to grow up and be an adult at work. You need to give yourself an adult timeout.

It’s like pressing pause on the volcano that’s about to erupt and avoiding the inevitable meltdown that usually follows.

Next time you feel like a full-on toddler tantrum is about to hit, take a step back from the trigger. Call a timeout and pull the circuit breaker switch.

You can move from the primitive part of your brain that wants you to lose it and transition to the rational side instead. This helps you think and act more clearly. Plus, it makes you more productive.

No more losing it.

You’ll be the king of calm and in control.

Feel Better,

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