Today, kids are taught that timeouts are a form of punishment equivalent to—what we called back in my day ‘sitting in the corner.’ That was such torture! Listening to your friends and family having a great time while your back was turned—oh how the tears would flow! We didn’t understand it then, but our parents could see exactly what we needed—no toys, no distractions, just time to cool down and reflect. And when mom or dad finally tapped you on the shoulder and told you that you could join the group once again, you’d dry your eyes and almost jump out of your skin with excitement, ready to get back in the game.
My parents were brilliant! Despite the plaster in that corner softened from our tears, and our sleeves crusty from our snotty noses, those timeouts were necessary. That’s because they often removed us from emotionally charged situations. Those moments in the corner, painful though they were, kept us from hurting ourselves and others—either with our fists or with our words.
Well, I have news for you—timeouts are just as necessary for adults today. A 2007 psychological study stated that when we pause and take the time to put our feelings into words, it actually helps to calm a part of our brain called the amygdala. This is the part of our brain responsible for emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear. When triggered, it sets off alarm bells, and we become stressed or agitated until we’re able to figure out, and put into words, what set that alarm off—something I have only been able to do when I put myself on a timeout.
The amount of time needed to process your emotions depends on you, but here are two things that have helped me.
- I love hourglasses, as you could probably tell from my recent Instagram posts, so I use one that lasts ten minutes for my timeouts. (I also have a larger, two-hour hourglass, but who has that much time?) I find that even just ten minutes of reflection can do a world of good.
- Once you know what triggered your emotions, essential oils such as Frankincense, Lavender, and Stress Away (one drop of each) can actually help to calm the amygdala down. Marrying psychology with a little bit of plant-based chemistry? Yes, please!
To this day I am surprised how just a little timeout—a moment with no distractions, time to feel what I am feeling, to name the emotions, to put it all into words, to let it all go—can be so liberating. Taking the time to cool down and reflect is still exactly what I need. And when the hourglass runs out, as I begin to wipe away my tears, I can almost feel that loving tap on my shoulder, once again telling me that I am ready—ready to join the group and ready to get back in the game.