It is a very British response to a crisis – as soon as any immediate danger has past, we all know the only thing left to do is put the kettle on.

There simply isn’t any situation that cannot be improved by a nice cup of tea (preferably with a biscuit). Whether you’ve had a bump in the car, lost your job or a loved one has passed away we reach for the tea bags. If you’re in no state to do it for yourself, you can guarantee that whoever is by your side will do it for you.

It’s actually a genius response to a crisis for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, if you are the helper, rather than the person in crisis, it gives you something practical to do. Some comfort you can offer when words might not cut it.

If you are caring for yourself it also gives you something practical to do. The ritual of tea making is comforting. Getting your favourite mug out the cupboard, waiting for the kettle to boil and the tea to brew. It gives you a moment.

To add to that, the process of slowly eating or drinking something signals to your nervous system that you are now safe, and your alert system can ease off.


But it’s really the moment is that counts. The pause. To be honest, a single cuppa might not be a long enough, depending on what you’ve been through. Maybe you need to take an hour, a day, a week or longer to get yourself back on an even keel now that the adrenaline that got you through the event is dissipating. I urge you to be kind to yourself and take the time you need as soon as you need it.

It’s easy to feel like you might be letting other people down, or being selfish by taking time, but you’re not. It is essential that you pause to reflect on and process what you’ve been through. There is a real danger of burnout or even a breakdown ahead of you if you power through.

Some Science

If you don’t take this time your body may not realise that the time of stress is over, so it keeps your Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) running in sympathetic mode, ready for action, fight or flight. While you needed that to get through before, now that it’s over you need your ANS to flip back into parasympathetic mode – rest and repair, so that you can do just that, rest and repair.

Rebalancing your ANS is another reason that putting the kettle on is the perfect response – you don’t see people being chased through the jungle by tigers sitting down dipping their biccy in their brew. Having something to eat or drink signals to your fight and flight centre that it’s time to stand down.

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