Stress and anxiety can build in our body and mind throughout the day. It may seem, at times, like there is nothing we can do to mitigate stress, but I am here to share with you How to Use the S.T.O.P. Mindfulness Exercise to Reduce Stress so that you can learn to control your stress and anxiety and the effects it has on your mind and body.
Why is it So Important to Practice Stress Reduction?
Stress is something that builds over time and if you’re living with high levels of stress, you’re putting your health and wellness in jeopardy. The longer we live with stress without managing it, the more long term damage it can do to our health. If you have a chronic illness, like I do, you also might find that by managing stress, you can effectively manage your symptoms. Stress reduction and management is all about becoming aware of what you are experiencing and taking control of your thoughts, feelings and how you respond to things in your life. Today, I’m going to teach you one method that is helpful in raising your own awareness, so that you can also become more in control of how you respond to your own experiences.
How to Use the S.T.O.P. Mindfulness Exercise to Reduce Stress
S.T.O.P. is an exercise that serves as a reminder to become more aware of your experience. 60-70% of Americans report having problems with stress and anxiety. Stress is actually a normal and somewhat healthy response our body needs to be able to survive, but when we aren’t faced with life or death situations, our stress levels are supposed to normalize so it doesn’t cause our systems to overload. If we’re worried about a big test coming up, a fight with our loved one or whether or not we’re going to make enough money to pay the rent, our stress response activates and starts the process of fighting for survival. If we don’t actively work to mitigate this response, over time it can cause high blood pressure, muscle tension, anxiety, insomnia, digestive difficulties, and a weakened immune system. By STOPPING we can actively reduce our stress response and take over our mind and body by calling our attention to the present moment and all that is happening within it. Below, Ill walk you through how to S.T.O.P. so you can learn to control your stress and anxiety throughout the day and take back your life.
S = Stop
Stop what you are doing, put down what you are working on
T = Take a breath
Take several deep breaths in for 3-4 seconds and out for 3-4 seconds. Focus on how your breath feels entering your lungs. Notice how your chest and belly rise with each breath in and fall with each breath out. Imagine you are breathing in fresh, clean air and exhaling stress and tension from your body and mind.
O = observe
Observe everything that is happening in the present moment, both around you and within you. Use your senses to ground yourself to this moment by naming things you can hear, see, smell and touch. Notice any thoughts you might be experiencing and any feelings you might be experiencing with curiosity. Remind yourself that thoughts and feelings are not facts, they are simply states of being and they are temporary. Watch as they pass through your mind and body and name them out loud. Research tells us that naming an emotion can dial down it’s intensity in your body, thereby reducing the stress it causes us. Observe your body, how you are sitting or standing, observe any pain or discomfort you are feeling, without placing judgment on it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
P = proceed
Use your observations and experiences to inform how you Proceed into your day. Be aware of how you proceed, if you need additional time, take a self-care break. Use the knowledge of how you WERE responding to your experiences (thoughts, feelings, reactions) to change how you respond moving forward, with more awareness and a sense of calm nonjudgment.
Remember, This can be done in as little as a few minutes throughout your day. You can set reminders on your phone, use an app or schedule mindfulness breaks for yourself throughout your day to STOP and reflect. After practicing this method for a couple weeks, reflect on how it changes your thoughts, feelings and responses to stressors that you experience.
Amanda Pratt, LCSW
Want to learn more? Sign up for our email list below to get premium access to online courses, new blog posts and educational content! Once you sign up, you will get our FREE GIFT: The Stress Reduction Activities Worksheet!