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How to have a 24-hour meltdown

It seems like we’re always fighting off a cold, managing work stress, or holding down the fort at home. The level of anxiety in every day life is pretty high, so when life lobs a big stress-ball at you, it can be overwhelming.

Stress is part of life

Photo by Jchetan via Flickr

But we’ve got stuff to do, and people who count on us, and bills to pay. So we suck it up and keep going.

The effects of long-term stress are pretty intense. Your body is basically releasing “fight or flight” chemicals in response to danger on a regular basis, which means your body never goes into “safe” mode. Your brain thinks the dinosaurs are always after you.

One thing we advocate on this blog is pursuing your dreams, which gives you the life you want. But it takes work and time to get there, and there is plenty of stress along the way. Hey, even when you get there you’ll still have stress.

So I have devised a 24-hour “managed meltdown” that allows you to give in to your stress – wallow, cry, yell, eat, sleep, drink, veg, etc. – and then get back to life. Try it once and you’ll never do the stiff upper lip thing again.

Your mind and your body will thank you (and probably those innocent bystanders, too).

How to manage your meltdown

  1. First things first, you have to have a reason for your meltdown. Are you sick, heartbroken, mad, upset, crazed or just physically exhausted? Good. These are perfect conditions for a 24-hour meltdown.
  2. Next you have to pick a time and a place for your meltdown. If you can do it on your day off, all the better. But hey, this is also what sick days are for. Pick a day where you have no obligations, or cancel the ones you do. You are not doing anything for anyone this day, and if you can be alone, even better.
  3. Stock your meltdown appropriately with the things that bring you comfort – rent movies, buy foods you don’t have to prepare (unless cooking relaxes you), make sure your comfy clothes are washed, get some gossip magazines, buy tissue, get a nice bottle of wine (or rotgut, if that seems more appropriate), etc.
  4. Prepare your environment by locking the front door, closing the shades, turning off the phone, and letting your nearest and dearest know you are in lockdown for 24 hours.
  5. Finally, you succumb to your stress/sickness and wallow in it. Completely. In fact, go overboard with it. Wail if you want, watch terrible movies, sleep the whole day, or stuff yourself silly.

Why it works

I’ve been using this method a couple of times a year for a while now, and it works beautifully.¬†When you run out of steam feeling sorry for yourself, you’ll start to feel a little ridiculous. And then you’ll start thinking of solutions or just start working yourself out of it. (I’m not speaking of clinical depression or chemical imbalances here, just everyday life stress and setbacks.)

Time really does heal all wounds. Or at least stops them from hemorrhaging.

We push so hard to take it all in stride without ever stopping to think what it does to our overall stress load. By letting it out on a regular basis, you can keep your equilibrium and handle the joys and stresses of life.

How I’ve used it

The last 24-hour meltdown I had was just before I left to take my cat to New Mexico to her new home. My cat has been with me since my divorce, and she’s seen me through a big solo move, career advances, failed romances, a new marriage, and a couple of moves since. She’s more than just a cat; she’s the only permanent thing I’ve had in my life for the last 10 years.

Parting with her caused me a lot of angst about our trip, this stage of my life, and wondering if I am just bat-shit crazy for wanting to do this thing. You can see that this is pretty fertile ground for a 24-hour breakdown.

Your meltdown could be due to anything that is meaningful to you – you are the only one it has to make sense for. But the meltdown should not be overused or it will lose its significance. I only do it a couple of times a year and find that it helps me get back to life faster than I would by keeping it all in, and that’s what we’re all after, isn’t it?

Can you see yourself using this strategy? Have you done something like this before? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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About Betsy

Betsy Talbot can't live without a Moleskine notebook, her passport, and happy hour. She sold everything she owned to travel the world with her husband Warren in 2010, and she's been enjoying her midlife crisis ever since. Betsy writes about creating the life you want from the life you already have in her books and on the Married with Luggage website. Drop her an email at btalbot (at) marriedwithluggage (dot) com and check out her Google+ page.


  1. this is an interesting concept to me to schedule your meltdowns!

  2. This is so funny! I believe it would work.

    When I’m at “the end of my rope” I love to cry. It’s a great stress reliever for me. And when my husband is there and sees that it’s going to happen, he actually holds me and pats my back like a little baby and says things like, “Go ahead, let it out.” It’s so sweet and simultaneously hilarious that I’m done crying pretty quick and I feel much better.

    I think I’ll try the 24-hour meltdown thing the next time I’m feeling overwhelmed and overcommitted, and impatient with one of the difficult people in my life (family members I love but who are senile or kind of helpless)

    Great post!

  3. You know, I’ve been doing this for a while and didn’t realize other people didn’t do it. It all started after a conversation with a grief counselor at a party. He said that it is physically impossible to cry for days like you think you will. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense that you should just cry until you can’t cry anymore instead of holding back and crying in short bursts for days on end. And it has been a fantastic healer.

    Warren thought it was weird at first, but over the years he’s gotten used to and knows to give me space on those days so he can have the “regular” me back as soon as possible. Hope it works for you, too!

  4. I might have to try this out to face the stress of coming home after 8 years living abroad and a year-long RTW, ouch!

  5. Meg at Demanding Joy says:

    I love it! I’ve always framed it as playing hooky from my life, but I like the concept of the planned meltdown much better. I think I’m due for one – Thanks!

  6. Marta, I’m pretty sure you’ll need more than a 24-hour meltdown to adjust after 8 years living abroad! In fact, I’d love to hear more about your “re-integration.”

  7. that’s a very important topic besty, i believe no one can feel happy unless he can deal with long term stress

  8. I love this! I just finished reading a book on women creating retreats and you may call it a meltdown, but it feels like a rejuvenating retreat to me. Mine would include a day sans email spent in nature and then reading. Thanks for this! It’s good to get permission to melt down once in a while! :)

  9. Where did you take your cat? Is she OK???

  10. Sometimes we just have to give ourselves permission to look after ourselves.

    Great concept! I like the idea of stocking up supplies beforehand!

  11. I occasionally have to have a meltdown day myself, thanks to naturally being an emotion-bottler. My husband starts to see me “holding it all together” a little too much and either suggests a break, makes the house empty for a bit or otherwise lets me know that I am running myself ragged. It is very rare that I actually realize how stressed out I am and give myself permission to cry/yell/scream/sit in a tub all day on my own power. It just was something that was NOT DONE by my family. I have to say that it sure works though.

    One word of caution from first hand experience–
    If you find yourself needing more of these than a few times a year you may want to dig a bit deeper and seeing what else is causing trouble in your life. I occasionally will find that my body wants to have a pity party for weeks at a time…but that is due to some massive depression that I have found only activity, meds, and a lot of prodding get me through that. Self-care pity parties are great–but they only work so long as you are tired of them by the end of the day.

  12. Queen Lucia says:

    I love this post! I do something sort of similar, which is to be “Closed for Business” every once in a while, usually during times of high stress and high demand on my personal time. But I don’t go “whole hog” as you’ve described here – I usually still do housework and laundry, etc, mostly I just don’t schedule outside stuff and don’t answer the phone – but I think if I did go whole hog, then I might do it less often. A full 24 hours of me me me would be lovely!


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