The Three Boxes of Stress Control

I use three boxes to keep myself sane.

When I’m alert enough to catch myself in loop of anger, worry, regret, or facing a major change that I don’t know how to handle,  I drop my problem in one of the three boxes.

It took a long time for me to be open to using these boxes but they help when I’m stuck repeating the same thoughts and same feelings.

The boxes represent the toning down of my drive to take control or hold control of what happens in my life. Because I, like everyone,  really, really want to have control. For decades I thought the best approach was: pushing hard and/or ruminate about the situation for hours, days, weeks, and sometimes months.

I slowly (very slowly) came to two realizations that made use of the three box approach possible: First, I had to recognize that ruminating on something beyond a short period of time is useless in terms of producing important new ideas or insights.  If there were new ideas to be had, I probably would have them within the first 50 times I ran a difficult situation through my mind. One thousand repetitions of the same coulds, shoulds, how could you’s,  wasn’t going to producing anything worth while.  I was just fooling myself  if I thought “I was thinking things through.”  Actually, all I was doing was chasing my tail, or mind tale, nothing more.

Secondly, I had to intellectually know and emotionally acknowledge the huge cost of rumination. Rumination costs a lot. Looping around and around blocks us from using our energy elsewhere.  It narrows our focus so we can’t see the big picture or other options. It keeps us locked in shame, regret, disgust, worry, or fear. Looping is  potentially harmful. Loops can lead to a downward spiral that at a minimum suck the joy and effectiveness out of life  and, in the worst case, lead to depressive hopelessness.   No thanks. That price is way, way too high.

Once I truly understood and bought into these realizations I thought about the common patterns of my ruminations and what would be a realistic approach that honored my concerns but moved my progress with them to some degree forward.  The progress, I saw could be external change or change within me in terms of relaxing my grip. Relaxing my grip, a bit, and for a short, moderate, or long time, gave me something realistic to do with all of my energy that I had been spending on useless ruminations. It also shifted me into a higher perspective, to see just how universal problems are and how there are principles of wisdom contained within the handling of each.

I saw a few common patterns and came up with with these boxes:

The Wait and See Box
This is where I mentally put some issue that just is going to have to play itself out. I can’t do anything more. This type of situation is common when you have told a person everything you know and strongly suggest to them to take this action or that. Of course, you want them to decide right then and there to do what you want, but alas, they want to think about it. Or maybe they just need to see how things will play out a bit first before they turn to you and and say: “Oh goodness, you were right!  I should have done so and so as you suggested.”  Sometimes, you just have to wait. And wait. And wait some more.

It’s Percolating Below the Surface
I use this box when I know that I have studied, thought a great deal about, and struggled with an issues as much as I can. When I put it in the box I’m not putting it there to forget it, but to turn it over to my unconscious to do the work below the surface. When I put it into my box, I actually ask my unconscious to keep working away. Keep crunching until new ideas form and then, pop them up. It seems wild or not to be trusted, but our unconscious is constantly working for us and is seeking new solutions to our new and old problems.

I’ve Got That Covered Box
This comes into use when I catch myself going over a hundred times, no, make that a 1,000 times what I plan to do if such-and-such happens. It might be some sort of comment, a point that I want to get across in a presentation, or a set of behaviors. It took me a while to arrive at that plan because I had to think through alternatives, weigh each, and dump them all but this one. A lot of time, energy, and emotion has been invested in this process. I know the plan, I don’t need to ruminate hours and days on the plan. Again, I’ve got it. To help pull back from this cycle, I envision putting my plan into my “I’ve Got That Covered Box.”  It’s there, is safe and ready to use at a moment’s notice.

Practice, practice, practice
There is nothing automatic about this approach.  It is not like some promise that a single hypnosis session will cure all ills. The boxes approach will only work for you if you consistently use them. With much practice (don’t worry daily life will give you many opportunities to practice), slowly they will start to take on power as an effective way to manage your life…and protect your sanity.

You can visualize each box as you need it or you can buy actual boxes to keep around where you can see and use them. Some people write out the problem on a slip of paper and drop it into the box. This is sort of a ritual. I’m sure some day there will be a 3 box app.  So far I have not found the exact sort of box setup as I have outlined here, but there is one app that is pretty close: Box Your Issues


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