Putting the clutch down

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A clutch protects a vehicle against excessive tension.  Similarly, we can learn to break destructive emotional cycles in our minds.  Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

Do you sometimes find yourself getting more and more anxious about, or upset with, other people?  Pressure does that to us.  We respond to feeling pressurised by wasting energy on negative emotions.  We screw up our face into energy-sapping expressions, and contort our bodies into tense postures.  We start to run through imaginary arguments in our heads, and then play some of them out in reality, causing conflict between ourselves and those whom we are blaming for the pressure.

DAMAGING THE ENGINE

The effect is similar to driving a vehicle up a hill which is too steep for it.  There comes a point where the engine cannot function properly, since the energy being demanded of it is greater than it can comfortably provide in the moment.

At these points, the result depends on whether we are what I call ‘innies’ or ‘outies’.  ‘Innies’ tend to move that energy inwards, and spiral into a self-defeating meltdown such as a panic attack.  ‘Outies’ tend to move that energy outwards, and spiral into destructive attacks on others, picking fault and stereotyping their enemies.

Both types of energy movement are unsustainable.  Anxiety is unsustainable because the body’s feedback system makes more anxiety from existing anxiety, until we feel debilitated.  Anger is unsustainable because it drags down the supportiveness in social relationships, until we are isolated.

PUTTING THE CLUTCH DOWN

At such times, there is, however, another option.

If we are driving a car which is in danger of stalling, we might realise we can put the clutch down.  In a car with a manual gearbox, pressing one’s foot on the clutch separates the force of the engine from the force of the wheels.  This breaks the destructive circle of an unsustainable battle, and allows the car to regain its composure without destroying itself.

In the same way, when we get anxious or upset, we always have the option of ‘putting the clutch down’.  This means disengaging our behavioural system from the acute pressure of an apparent immediate problem.  Within an anxious person, it means taking a deep breath, and teaching the mind not to be led by the panic.  Within an angry person, it means taking a similar deep breath, and teaching the mind to break the cycle of attack.

AN EXERCISE

Just for today, watch yourself for signs of anxiety or irritation.  When you spot them, then practice ‘putting your clutch down’ – in other words, try to disengage yourself from the destructive cycle, and relax the tension.

It may seem to you that what you are worried about is so essential that you can’t let go.  But it is quite possible that, in the moment, you can let go of the concern without adversely affecting your long term prospects.  Without the destructive spiral in the now, you may even be better equipped to deal with the matter later.

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SUMMARY

We often react to pressure with anxiety and anger.  At such times, we are like a car driving up a hill that is too steep for it.

This causes excess tension with nowhere to go.  Anxious people turn that tension inwards, and have a meltdown.  Angry people push the tension outwards, and attack and blame others.

At such times, it can be useful to remember a third option.  Instead of feeling stuck with the tension, we can ‘put the clutch down’, and disengage our minds from the source of the pressure.  We are not compelled to feel all tensions in our minds.

If we can train ourselves to observe our own tensions, take a deep breath, and disengage from sources of pressure, then we are better equipped to handle life’s stresses and strains.

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