How to gain mental clarity when being chased by a tiger

Stressed Out by Trish

Written by Trish


You are walking along in the wild jungle and what steps into your path?

A tiger looking like you just stole her young.

Your nervous system goes into high alert and you have two choices: fight or flight.

I’m not talking about the type of fighting where you recall every lethal move Bruce Lee performed and get into position.  Or the type of flight whereby you remember the running strategy designed to keep a marathoner steady as she paces her distance in the 100 degree heat and use that to your advantage.

No, no.  Even if you could think of wanting to think of these tactics, your brain would come back again with fight (the kicking, screaming, biting, hair-pulling kind) or flight (run like hell).

Then imagine your are running like hell with your body and brain completely focused on survival, the mama tiger on your heels, and your boss jumps out from behind the tall twisted grass to ask you about the numbers for the weekly status meeting.

Then your babysitter is running beside you (where did she come from?) asking what she’s supposed to feed little Johnny when all you have in the house is dog food.


Back to the real world… how come it feels the same?

Experiencing post-trauma stress, I sometimes wish the person asking me the question could see that imaginary tiger chasing me.  It would make it a lot easier to explain why I have a strained look on my face, trying desperately to process information and come up with an answer.

So how do I achieve mental clarity when I am in a state of high alert such that I can assuredly answer questions?

I can’t.  Our bodies and brains aren’t built that way.

Now before you throw up your hands and say “I thought this post was titled How to Gain Mental Clarity…”, give me a second:

  • If I feel the slightest agitation when being asked something (you know what I am talking about if you get highly anxious or stressed a lot), my default answer is “Let me get back to you on that.”  The agitation is a warning sign I am not able to provide an answer with confidence.
  • I write the question down (always handy to carry a notebook with you).
  • I then come back to the question when my nervous system is no longer on high alert.  In my case, this is after a short period of relaxation, deep breathing, EFT, or hiding in the bathroom.
  • I follow up with the questioner.

Yes, the questioner had to wait.  But which would you prefer: stumbling through a half-ass answer you later find yourself reneging on OR delivering a complete, authentic answer you feel comfortable with?


What do you think?

I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below: how do you handle communication with others when your mind is fuzzy from stress hormones overload?


Note: the idea for this post was inspired by a teleseminar by Nick Ornter of


Cartoon credit: Trish Hurtubise


Trish HurtubiseHi. I’m Trish Hurtubise…the founder, curator and an editor for Mental Health Talk. I love serving those who are relegated to the shadows by society by giving them a platform to share their voice and be seen and heard… hence my passion for working with all the wonderful people who have shared their stories and wisdom on MHT.

You may view all posts by me here.

Much love to you.

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  • Rachel Miller

    Great cartoon Trish!

    This state of overstimulation is something I really try to manage as if I let it build up too much, that is when I’m in danger of triggering a Bipolar episode.

    When I do feel like this I tend to retreat from the world for a while. I think that’s the only way I know how to deal with it. I think friends can find this really hard to accept and I have found that friendships have suffered for it, but I’m doing the best I can to keep myself well.

    If I’m in a position where I can’t retreat, I’m not usually very sensible and will say yes to too many requests until I can’t handle everything!! Really need to say “I’ll get back to you” like you do- thanks for that!

    • Trish

      Thank you for sharing your experience Rachel. I’m all for taking care of you first–kudos on that! And thank you so much for your feedback on my cartoon. Love, Trish xo

  • Julie

    Discovered you (happily!) through Rachel Miller’s blog. I adore the cartoon. The first time my innards have been put in cartoon form. I’ve always felt that I was alone, and thus crazy and unfit for “human consumption”. I love it when people are able to say, “Let me get back with you,” although I don’t like it when they say it to me because it doesn’t gel with my impulsive need to fix things right away and have them all settled and orderly. I would like to be more like you described. I have learned to delay responses longer, but not quite long enough. There is a desperate need inside of me when anxiety is high (it doesn’t take much) to come up with a definitive answer in order to calm my anxiety and feel I can move onto the next thing. Thank you for this wonderful post!

    • Trish

      So wonderful to meet you Julie and to have you here. I will have to tell Rachel “thank you” for connecting us.

      I really appreciate your feedback. It is really, really hard to not want to fix things right away and give an answer–I’m the same way when I’m anxious. I’m afraid the person will get angry and *gasp* become confrontation (two big fears of mine). But I think it takes practice, and I’m starting with people who I know will be more understanding… to build up my confidence. I’m practising right along with you.


      • Julie

        Trish, So excited about being connected to what you are doing. After I responded to your post, I went to the market and actually restrained myself from going hog-wild on buying videos. Was actually, to my surprise, able to not go hog wild. Buying only three videos (they’re cheap here) instead of five kind of goes along with your picking out people who will be easier to be honest with. As skills and courage build, we’re able to take on bigger challenges. …On the note of honesty (which is what you are seriously and effectively practicing), I am finding that the more I confront honestly, the more I realize what my truth actually is and the more I absolutely have to be direct and tell the truth. It’s kinda like punching (verbally or by email or FB message or texting) the other person and then wondering if I’ll get punched back, although when I communicate I am careful to be respectful. But I’m not getting punched back and instead am gaining respect and friends, including respect for myself and a greater love towards myself. SO WEIRD and so exciting at the same time. Thank you for your kind and loving reception. Am really glad to join Rachel in your neighborhood. You are both treasure finds.

        • Trish

          Thank you for sharing your insights Julie. I am really happy for you that being true to yourself and your needs through honesty has been very rewarding. Kudos for your courage. Rachel is certainly a treasure find–I am a big fan of her blog. I can’t wait to publish her guest post in September.

          Take care Julie and keep in touch.


  • Joanna

    During my last encounter with my ex boyfriend he said ” I waited a month, a year .. for your answer and it never came..” I just recently had the guts to suspect that I am suffering from ptsd , that I need help from someone who specializes in this area and not just general psychologist . For the whole time I have been blaming myself for the mental fog, inability to answer simple questions. As I begun to explore the effects of ptsd on the brain and the whole body some of the blame disapeared.
    I am currently in therapy, just started discovering why I react as I do, as well as, the fact that I can be helped! I hope to get back here in a while with the answer to the question posted above.

    • Trish

      Joanna–thank you for sharing your experience. I too experience (C-)PTSD and know how important it is to work with someone who specializes in helping people with the disorder (or better yet, work with someone who has experienced PTSD!) I wish you much healing on your journey of recovery and look forward to your return to these comments.

      Much love,

  • andrew

    Its hard to explain it to someone that has never felt what its like. I was in a junk yard looking for car parts, and well i noticed helicopters flying over head, didnt really mind it at first, and then i noticed that my palms were sweaty and clammy. It was at this point that i started believing i was not in a junk yard anymore. I thought, I felt like i was back in iraq. I couldn’t stay i had to leave. And lately I have become more and more aggressive towards people. I become so mad at someone that i cant even stand a person laughing. It just irritates me more. I don’t normally ask for help, not because of pride or ego, i just don’t do it, bur i do not know what to do. The va takes forever, and has crappy service at best, I have no where to turn to because its hard for other people to understand what its like, and i cant explain it. What do i do?

    • Trish

      I am sorry for not getting back to you sooner Andrew– I was away for a few days.

      In my experience with PTSD and working towards healing, I found education re the disorder, Emotional Freedom Technique (specifically Matrix Reimprinting which is an advance form of EFT), mindfulness, breath work, and a diet that keeps my blood sugar level has helped me immensely. To the point I no longer get flashbacks, I am more resilient, and if I do get anxious, I can manage it.

      My world has gotten big again.

      But everyone needs to find what works for them and it’s not always going to be easy of course. Here are a few of my suggestions:

      You may find this post helpful as Russ had similar symptoms to you:

      This site is gold and I have worked with Michele and she is awesome (PTSD survivor herself): .

      She also has a very informative radio show re PTSD: Some of the archives include the best cutting edge PTSD experts like Levine and Scarer.

      It is possible to work with Michele via phone/skype towards recovery from PTSD. She helps with lifestyle and trauma through professional coaching and hypnosis (optional). I think she’s very good.

      Robert Scarer’s books and the articles featured on his site: He is a neurologist who has focused on PTSD. He is revolutionary in his thinking.

      The handbook to PTSD… Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger. Here is the pdf:

      The idea supported by Scarer and Levine and others is trauma is blocked energy in the body resulting from the freeze response (what happens if you cannot fight or flight) and certain techniques (listed below) work to unblock it so the traumatic memory has less charge.

      So for therapy, I would look for therapists that practice the following techniques for releasing trauma.

      1. Somatic Experiencing (developed by Peter Levine (see above))–I believe this has to be done face-to-face: (go to find a practitioner)

      2. Emotional Freedom Technique (can work with anyone anywhere as long as they do SKYPE):
      Find a practitioner:

      3. EDMR (has to be done in person):

      I have never tried #1 or #3. If EFT didn’t work, I was going to try #1 next. Then #3.

      It is hard to ask for help. It took me almost 5 years after being diagnosed with PTSD to even start to accept it. But in the end Andrew, I needed the help from practitioners, and meds/talk therapy from a psychiatrist. Please consider strongly asking for help.

      Like I said, everyone is unique in what helps them to resolve the symptoms of trauma. If one modalitiy does not work for you, please don’t give up. There are many more options out there… more than what I listed. I just stuck to the ones I would recommend first.

      Much love,

    • Trish

      Two more things Andrew that no one ever told me until I found Michele:

      1. Trauma is a normal reaction to abnormal situation
      2. Recovery from PTSD is possible. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

      Oh yeah, I subscribe to this site called The Angry Therapist and they’re offering individual session geared towards PTSD for cheap $50/session. I have never worked with them so I cannot say if I found them effective but a consultation with the therapist help you to decide:

      The email about the PTSD sessions (the chat has gone by but I am sure you can still sign up for the $50 sessions)

      Questions about trauma?
      LIVE CHAT Q & A with MC Monday 4/7 at 7pm EST inside the
      Almost everyone I’ve ever treated has experienced some form of trauma. That’s just the world we live in. The mind / body are unable to process these experiences due to their overwhelming and shocking nature. Because they are not digested properly, the trauma then takes on a life of its own and haunts you, preventing you from thriving. Trauma is not just a thing you went though. It changes your brain chemistry.
      If you’ve been through trauma or think you have, MC from Team Angry is offering 50 dollar sessions. That’s like the price of a T shirt.
      A little about MC.
      My specialty is trauma and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I’m a PhD candidate in Boston finishing up my dissertation on combat trauma and PTSD, but I’m interested and trained in all kinds of trauma. I believe that trauma is a kind of mental injury and not a mental illness. It is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation, and not a sign of weakness. I believe that the best way to begin healing trauma is by talking through what happened with an empathetic audience. This helps the memory of the event become a memory from the past rather than something that you continuously relive in the present. It also helps you understand the ways that trauma is effecting your daily life and relationships. Healing and adapting to trauma is possible. No matter what you’ve been through.
      I first became interested in trauma when I read a newspaper article about a veteran who came home from deployment destroyed and unable to get the help that he needed. That was four years ago. Since then I’ve been committed to researching and educating people about how they can adapt to trauma and live better, happier lives. I’d be honored to hear your stories and help you cope.
      – MC
      Email me if you would like to start living different.
      – Angry

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