Take a Breath… and Assess

2020 has been hugely triggering for people, and there are many factors that have made this year consistently unpredictable. COVID-19 and the job insecurity that many people face because of it, the resurgence of the BLM movement, the Presidential election, just to name a few. Raise your hand if you have been in a perpetual state of stress since March [Meg raises her hand].

As we settle into the holiday season, with Thanksgiving behind us, I think it's important to recognize two things. 1. The holidays can be stressful on their own (without 2020's shenanigans). 2. The holiday blues are so common! If you are feeling a bit blue this year, you are not alone, m/sister. Please note: the holiday blues are different than mental illness. According to NAMI, they "are short-term mental health problems must be taken seriously. They can lead to clinical anxiety and depression."

When you're in survival mode, or highly stressed, it's so easy to get caught up in reactive behavior. What do I mean by that? Have you ever been triggered by something, a phone call or action, and immediately spiraled into a behavior or thought process you had no control over? Yeah, me too... More times than I'd like to admit. That's reactive thinking and behavior. I don't know about you, but I rarely feel better about the situation after I've spiraled.

So, I'd like to offer you a resource that will help you recognize this thought pattern and move your reaction into a controlled behavior versus a reactive one. This process is called the Behavior Chain and you can use it for pretty much every situation you encounter. Sound good? Ok, here we go!

Behavior Chain

Below is an image of a behavior chain. It walks you through a work-related scenario but this pattern can be applied to any life situation. But for the sake of this blog, let's walk through an example.

infographic walking reader through the phases of a behavior chain


Nervous Nelly gets an email from her boss inquiring about the status of a project. Nelly is a week away from her deadline but because her boss asked about how the project is going, she is immediately triggered.


Nelly might think, "Oh my gosh, she must need this completed sooner." She might question, "Ugh, does she think I can't finish this project on time?" Or perhaps, "She's questioning my ability to complete this project on time or up to her standards" "She must need this before the end of the week."


Nelly, nervous that her boss is unhappy with the time she is taking to complete this project emails her boss back immediately. She tells her boss that she will have the project done by the end of the next business day, versus the end of the week, as she previously planned.


Because Nelly significantly reduced her timeline to appease her assumption about why her boss was checking on the project, she has to work late. Because she has to work late, she misses her favorite class at her gym. Her gym charges her the late cancelation fee, and her friend Chatty Cathy sends her a long text message explaining her disappointment that Nelly bailed on their class. She misses dinner with her family and has to work late that night. Nelly is tired, stressed, and grumpy.

How it could have gone...

If Nervous Nelly had recognized her trigger for what it was, she would have been able to better manage her feelings and her subsequent actions. Instead of jumping to the conclusion that her boss was unhappy with her timeline, she may have opted to ask more questions. She may have opted to gather more data to support or refute her assumptions. And those actions may have produced a different consequence.

Perhaps her supervisor was asking about Nelly's timeline because she was bragging about the project to their CEO. She may not have hurried to rush the project's completion date. She certainly wouldn't have imposed the emotional stress that comes with thinking your boss is unhappy with your work.

My point is this, if we can evaluate our initial thought from the very beginning trigger point, we can adjust the entire outcome. That gives us amazing potential to lessen internal suffering, and I am all for that. So, in the future, I hope that this can help bring awareness to response patterns, encourage you to slow down, and take things one step at a time.

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