The fear of pressing the brake

March 01, 2023

El miedo a apretar el freno

The feeling of not being able to stop. Being so accustomed to a frenetic pace, to such a high and constant stress or alert level that it has become our comfort zone. We suddenly find ourselves in a hurricane of work, sports, plans or infinite tasks... Does this sound familiar to you?

Why does this happen?

Human beings are capable of adapting to almost any situation. This is an incredible advantage for the survival of the species. It allows us to perfect strategies and mechanisms so that they become part of our daily lives, like our pocket tools.

The problem appears when a vital situation, a difficult or threatening context in some sense, establishes itself in our life with no intention of leaving in the short term. Normally it affects us most when it appears in childhood or adolescence, but it can happen at any time in life,
especially if it is a moment of vulnerability .

This requires us to activate a very powerful alert in ourselves and develop EMERGENCY strategies .

  • Strategies to protect myself (aggressive or avoidant behaviors or communication) or my environment (taking excessive care of others, prioritizing the well-being of others).
  • Strategies to escape from that situation and deactivate that alarm again for a while (eating excessively or very palatable food in an uncontrolled manner, taking drugs, risky behavior, excessive movement...). Behaviors so intense that they do not allow me to think or feel that discomfort.
  • Control strategies to compensate for the insecurity that the environment generates in me (excessively controlling what I eat, my image, my grades, my work or sports performance...) even going to the extreme of establishing conscious or unconscious rules that generate momentary security, That is, lower my hyperactive alertness for a while (compulsions, rituals...).

All of this is clearly very exhausting on all levels. Even so,It generates a certain addiction, since it distracts us from unpleasant sensations.

The context in which the strategy appears, both for the first time and throughout life, can be really threatening, such as growing up in a family where abuse is practiced, suffering from an illness myself or a very close attachment bond, suffer an accident, have a very demanding job, suffer harassment... 

But we can also feel helpless by undervaluing our ability to face a threat (which perhaps from another perspective is not so great). 

That is to say... The problem is not only the threat itself, but the perception I have of my own ability to face that situation is much more important.

In extreme cases, or repeated over time, what we call trauma occurs.

Let's go back to not being able to stop...

When our strategy for a long time has been to be productive, to be useful, even to try to be perfect, to occupy every minute of our time, tranquility becomes something strange. Rest, calm, the power to “do nothing” are no longer part of our daily lives.

What we are not exposed to regularly becomes strange to our nervous system and sets off our alarms.

 How many times is the fear of the unknown talked about?

What if the unknown is peace, pause, silence?

Many times we realize that a frenetic pace of work, study or even leisure activities is not doing us good. We may have tried, when our family and friends repeat to us that we have to slow down, that we cannot continue like this. When we ourselves realize that wear and tear and we click.

And when we're trying, when I sit on the couch, when I decide not to stay overtime or say NO to a plan...

ANXIETY. A discomfort so great that it suffocates us, awakens a thousand self-destructive thoughts that we cannot bear.

And here we realize that we do not tolerate tranquility. It seems that it is more profitable for me to stay in my comfort zone, even if it is destroying my physical and psychological health.

How do we get out of here?

It is not easy to change dynamics that have surely been with us for many years. Like any bad habit, it is difficult to change. And if we add that this hyperactivity is normally rewarded and valued by our environment and by society in general, it is even more difficult.

In many cases, the help of a professional will be necessary to individualize our case, analyze why at some point I needed to activate these strategies and all the factors that maintain this rhythm. Sometimes we miss things and our sensor to know where the balance is doesn't work. 

Despite this, we can start working on it now:

Nobody has taught us the importance of pleasure

No one teaches us that when we have enough pleasure in our lives, it is not so necessary to end unpleasant emotions. The enjoyment and well-being we receive increases our ability to manage the pain that inevitably comes into our lives.

It is not possible to free ourselves from behaviors or substances that harm us and limit our lives without making healthy pleasures a priority in our lives.

These substances and behaviors will continue to generate that high... but they will not generate the uncontrollable need to resort to them excessively.

Real contact with others and with myself, nature, movement, such as dance or yoga, and sports, activities that require connection such as painting or writing, are good examples. Still, it is important to ask ourselves the question: 

What makes me or has ever made me truly enjoy it?

Sadly, many of us will find this question difficult or the answer will be distorted with behaviors that, deep down, make me more anxious. We may have to investigate a little more or try.

Curiosity as a great ally

Having a curious attitude about our emotions, bodily sensations, difficulties and past experiences allows us to put distance between ourselves and the problem. I am just the container of all these experiences.

The tendency is to judge and complain, to repeat to ourselves: “Why is this happening to me? I hate this feeling” or even blame ourselves: “I should have acted differently, I'm a disaster”, “I deserve it…” “You're stupid, again…” 

This is the perspective of punishment . This control mechanism works from fear. It makes us act to avoid or flee suffering from anguish, without learning deeply from it and torturing ourselves along the way, using up our energy uselessly. 

On the other hand, curiosity allows us to distance ourselves emotionally for a moment. Learn, observe consciously from a much more relaxed state of the nervous system.

When we lower the level of alert, it is much easier to focus and, therefore, have a fuller experience to integrate what we are experiencing.

As? Asking us questions again from genuine interest:

How do I feel? What makes me feel this way? Does what I feel fit with the experience I am living right now? When have I felt this way in the past? At that moment I felt vulnerable and incapable in that situation? Is this situation identical or just similar? Do I have new strategies now?

be my best friend

Compassion with myself. It is mistakenly believed that the way to manage anxiety is to fight against it, trying by all means to turn it off. But like quicksand, this only makes us sink deeper, making us feel more and more panicked.

Our nervous system is capable of experiencing many emotions naturally. Even those that we consider unpleasant (fear, anger, shame, guilt, sadness...) are necessary and we should not cancel them, but rather validate them and listen to what they have to say.

Anxiety management comes with the ability to experience discomfort, pain, or these unpleasant emotions without getting stuck.

The idea is to surf that anxiety like a wave until it goes down. As? Without running away. Look at her face, accompanying us like a best friend would. Identifying the physical sensations , emotions and thoughts that come, distancing ourselves from them by repeating to ourselves: “ They are just thoughts and sensations, they will pass .” Like entering cold water, at first the intensity seems unbearable, but eventually it becomes more tolerable.

I help myself tolerate it, I place a hand where I feel the anxiety strongest (the chest, the pit of the stomach, for example) and we repeat to ourselves: “ I am here with me while it happens ”, “It is very unpleasant, but it will pass.”

Learn to set limits and ask for what I need

Although there are other strategies, finally, I would like to comment on the importance of working on assertiveness with others and with myself. Many times this self-demand and not being able to stop is the result of not having learned to set limits for others, to ask for the things we need or not being able to tolerate criticism .

Respecting ourselves does not have to be against respecting others.

Keeping our assertive rights in mind and learning healthy ways to relate to others is the basis of psychological self-care .

In conclusion, the basis for working on this aspect or any other is consciousness . If we do not know what is happening to us, where we come from and where we are going, any change becomes impossible. Asking ourselves questions, writing, reflecting, stopping to doubt and looking at ourselves will always be a starting point to return to at any time.

Recommended bibliography:

The happiness trap: Free yourself from anxiety. Start Living - Russ Harris 

Mindfulness in everyday life: Wherever you go, there you are - Jon Kabat-Zinn 

When the body says NO - Dr. Gabor Maté

Be kind to yourself - Kristin Neff

It's not me –Anabel Gonzalez


Text written by our team psychologist Esther Ayuste .

📩 You can request your first free psychological assessment appointment here and consult our psychology packs at this link.

📩 Contact for doubts and questions at or WhatsApp +34 722 530 271

Also in News


March 28, 2023


September 14, 2022


July 26, 2022