The other day I was reading Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s book on Mindfulness. It stated a fact that said by 2020, stress and anxiety will be the biggest cause of illness in Great Britain. It’s sad to say, that this prediction made in 2010, is indeed the case with 85% of people in the UK reporting that they feeling stressed on a regular basis.
Now stress is not a modern phenomenon. Stress is essential to our survival. It is what enables us to be alert and respond to perceived threats in our environment. So it is not stress itself that is the problem, rather the way we respond to it. Prolonged exposure can, over time, lead to high blood pressure, muscle tension, anxiety, insomnia, gastrodigestive complaints, and a suppressed immune system.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. Viktor Frankl.
This simple technique offers a way to interrupt the anxious thoughts and emotions, and get back to the present moment so that stress levels in the body can reduce. When we are present in the moment, we have better perspective and see that we have the power to choose how best to respond to pressure.
When you find yourself having anxious emotions or spiralling into negative thinking, STOP!
S = Stop
Action – Stop what you’re doing; put things down for a minute.
Rational – This moment to pause is essential to reframing the situation by putting a space between you and the trigger. Most of our responses are automatic and not particularly helpful. By slowing down, we can actively choose how we would like to respond in that moment.
T = Take a Breath STOP
Action – Take a few deep breaths. If you’d like to extend this, you can take a minute to breathe normally and naturally and follow your breath coming in through the mouth and out of your nose. You can even say to yourself “in” as you’re breathing in and “out” as you’re breathing out if that helps with concentration.
Rational – Slow, conscious breathing reduces adrenaline and activates the parasympathetic nervous system allowing the body to enter a state of relaxation. Furthermore, by focusing on the breath, we are not so consumed by the thoughts and feelings that created our distress. In this space, we can begin to think a little more rationally.
O = Observe STOP
Action – Observe your experience just as it is—including thoughts, feelings, and emotions. You can reflect about what is on your mind and also notice that thoughts are not facts, and they are not permanent. Notice any emotions present and how they’re being expressed in the body. Then notice your body. Are you standing or sitting? How is your posture? Any aches or pains?
Rational – Noticing our thoughts creates distance allowing us to detach from the thinking mind and recognise our thoughts as just thoughts. From this perspective they lose their power and control over us. Research shows that just through labelling your emotions, you can turn the volume down on the fear circuit in the brain, which has a calming effect.
P = Pull Back
Action – Pull back from the experience, remember just because you think something, doesn’t mean it is true. What is another way of looking at the situation? What would you tell a friend? Is the thought fact or fiction? What is a more reasonable explanation? How does this thought serve me? Remember it will pass. Use this pause to reframe the situation and substitute a more rational, helpful thought.
Rational – Much of our human suffering stems from the way we think about the world and a situation. This is what Cognitive Therapy seeks to address. Thoughts are thoughts, not truth, not fact. By steeping back emotionally from an event we can start to see the bigger picture in a realistic way.
*IMPORTANT* This is not an attempt to get rid of the thoughts or to stop ourselves from thinking… that only serves to exacerbate the problem. This is about giving ourselves the space to think more clearly on how we would like to respond as opposed to reacting from our emotions. It is a gentle pause to reset the balance of the body.
As with learning any skill, it can take time, patience and most of all practice to master. So find times during the day where you can stop, like in the shower, before a meal or arriving at work. Using this technique at times when you don’t even need it will help you in the moments you do. Clients that I have used this technique with in the past find it so helpful to write the steps on a small piece of card and carry it with them so they can read through the steps often and have a reminder in the moment. Or creating a note on your phone perhaps. In time, you will find that this becomes your automatic response.
It’s time to take control of your emotions and thoughts today 🙂
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