echnician holding wrench against white background

Have you heard the expression “that threw a wrench into my plans”? Apparently the expression began when factory workers threw a wrench into machinery to stop it from working when they needed a break. We have now adopted the phrase to mean that  an unexpected event prevents a plan or activity from succeeding.

When something “throws a wrench” into your life, how do you react? Do you spring into action right away, or do you sit with your emotions and process it for a while? As we think about the wrench, it’s a reminder about bouncing back  from the initial emotional reaction and moving forward. Let’s see how feelings, logical thought, and action all fit together.


Female worker wearing a toolbelt work apron for tools

Through this series of blog posts I am going to help you to continue to assemble your “Life Tool Box.” The toolbox will be filled with lots of simple living skills. When you are having a rough time in your life, just look in the Life Tool Box and find the best skill to help you that day.

Each week I’ll continue to choose one common home improvement tool to represent one of these life skills. By the end of each blog post, you’ll understand exactly why you need that tool and how you can use it to improve your daily life.


Your Feelings and the Wrench

small wrench

When you first get unexpected news or see something upsetting, you get an immediate rush of emotion. This can be surprising, shocking and exhausting at the same time, like a buzzing sensation all over. Try to center on the most obvious emotion – is it sadness, fear, anger, disappointment?

When you acknowledge your emotions, it’s easier to understand and feel them. Yes, it may be overwhelming, but stuffing your feelings will make things more difficult. Get in touch with someone you trust or pull out your journal and write. Do something to express your feelings honestly for a while.

Once you have coped with your initial reaction, it’s best to wait until you’ve calmed down before moving to the next step. In emergency situations this wouldn’t hold true. Sometimes you need to think and act quickly to help someone in danger. But in most cases, there is time to wait for the wave of feelings to subside. You want to solve a problem, not create a new one.

Think About the Problem – What Actually Happened?

Now that you’ve had a chance to calm yourself, you can take a more logical approach to the situation. Make a list, write things down, and ask questions. This is the time to dig out paperwork, look at the calendar, note who to talk to for more information, and so on. Sometimes it helps to breathe deeply and literally take a step backwards to help you mentally see the bigger picture.

This is a good time to assess the true scope of the problem. How much does this affect the very near future? How about down the road? Ask yourself – Did I overreact emotionally, or is there truly something to be concerned about? Can I do something about this now or is it best for me to wait? Could I even be wrong about the whole situation? These are critical questions because they will balance with your emotional reaction as you decide how to take the next step.

Take Action – Now or Later?

The final step is taking action. This is really dependent on the problem and doesn’t always need to happen right away. If you’ve experienced a death in the family, your actions may be as simple as doing normal daily functions and going through the funeral process. There’s no real solution here, but moving forward with daily life is an important action in the grieving process.

Other problems have a more clear-cut solution. It may feel completely terrifying to speak to the customer service representative of the electric company where you have an overdue bill. Talking to them and making a plan means you’re facing reality. Ultimately, taking care of the problem now is the best way to dispel your fears about the situation. Instead of fearing the unknown, you will know exactly what it takes to improve the situation.

The Complete Picture – Feelings, Thoughts, and Actions

Emotions are part of the decision making process so they shouldn’t be dismissed, but they are not the complete picture. Thoughts, logic, broader circumstances also inform your decision about responding to something difficult. Taking time to include these things will make for a better bounce-back and manage any wrenches life should throw at you.

Tell me, how you respond when something “throws a wrench” into your life? What has helped you to make good decisions when difficult things have happened?


Dr. Ines K. Roe has been helping women in transition rediscover themselves for over 20 years. If you’ve been feeling unfulfilled, are frustrated with your sense of accomplishment in midlife, or simply need guidance on your path to holistic well being, consider her ecourses.