Very occasionally will the cause of a meltdown (or shutdown) be one single event, and in these cases I have no advice or experience. Commonly, meltdowns occur after exposure to stressors (a word I am using to encompass any stimulus which causes a stress response), and then are triggered by something - the straw that broke the camel's back. There are a few possibilities when reducing the probability of a meltdown:
- avoid stressors
- reduce the effect of stressors
- avoid triggers
The second part is being able to isolate yourself. Isolation in itself is not hard, but if you are in a situation with an abundance of stressors, it may be difficult to remove yourself from that situation. If you are feeling overwhelmed and can escape, then it is likely you've avoided melting down, and you can start recovering from overexposure however you normally do.Unfortunately this might not work, in which case it's necessary to nip it in the bud sooner.
Avoiding stressors varies in feasibility from person to person. You have to identify when and where these occur, and simply cut them out. If the flickering lights in a particular shop are a cause, find a different shop. If the noise of a particular environment, like a construction site, is a cause, find a different route. Hopefully these won't sound like running away from your problems, or over simplistic pseudo-solutions. Hopefully you will be able to see that, to paraphrase English intellectual Cyril Connolly, the avoidance of pain is the beginning of wisdom - a sentiment probably expressed by many people over time. Wisdom doesn't come with age, it comes with experience, and my experience asks me: doesn't it sound wise to avoid bad experiences?*
But what if you can't avoid them? What if you have them thrust upon you? Running away is not the answer, but retreating may be. A retreat is organised and tactical. By retreating from a situation you are taking away the immediate stressor before it can build up to excessive levels, calming yourself, preparing yourself to deal with it, and returning to it with a more resolute (even optimistic) mindset. I'm not prescribing meditation for every minor infraction, but I find some of the principles very effective at reducing the likelihood of a meltdown...
Recently at work, where I operate at a genteel, almost leisurely, pace, I was given much more responsibility. This would interrupt what I saw as my regular duties, and put me in situations I was not comfortable with. Also, I was asked at the last minute to have a personal development type meeting. And also I had to train someone on something. And someone wanted me to check if I had made mistakes in a lot of my work (I hadn't). And I had something very time-sensitive given to me. And I had get something else right because it was being sent to the head of the organisation.
All of this took place in under half an hour, which you may understand put a little bit of pressure on me (if you don't understand why this build to meltdown feelings, don't be afraid to ask in the comments). So I waited until everyone had stopped making demands (while telling myself "calm down, breathe, get through this next minute") and isolated myself in a quiet room. I closed my eyes and took deep breaths, concentrating on nothing else but my breathing for several minutes. I then tried to order the events in my mind into a pattern that was manageable. When I returned, I started work on the first thing, then when I had finished, I started the second thing. Each thing one at a time. It worked out fine.
This may not be applicable to everyone, but it is transferable. If you can, do the wise thing avoid the causes of meltdowns. If you can't, do the wise thing and briefly retreat from them, using any coping mechanisms you have. You don't even have to go anywhere to retreat, just figuratively push the issue to the side for a moment (if you can - I know it's quite difficult with noise-based stimuli). Try not to escalate or magnify the stimuli by focussing on them. So far I haven't covered one contributing factor - fatigye or tiredness. Why? There is only one solution. Sleep.
*Some bad experiences are necessary, but repeated meltdowns are not