Tips on living a healthy and full life

S.T.O.P. stress: learn to be in the present

You probably know what it’s like to always be on the go and put the needs of others ahead of your own. During moments of stress, have you ever said to yourself or to others, “I just need some breathing space?” Well if so, this S.T.O.P. exercise is the key to creating the space you need. Even better, the S.T.O.P. exercise will always be available to you!

What is S.T.O.P.?

S.T.O.P. is an acronym for:

  • Stop
  • Take a breath
  • Observe
  • Proceed

The S.T.O.P. exercise is a super-fast and effective way to reduce stress and bring you into the present moment.

Many of us are on autopilot, unaware of what we are thinking and feeling.  This mindlessness – lack of awareness – takes us out of the driver’s seat of our own lives.

Specifically in terms of stress, many of us are unaware of our stress reactions to thoughts, emotions, or physical sensations. By incorporating this S.T.O.P. exercise into your life you can develop better awareness of your particular stress reactions and this awareness, in and of itself, creates distance from these reactions.

In turn, this distance creates the space to better regulate your response to whatever is happening in your life. That is, when you become aware, you can live more consciously and better adapt to your environment and whatever it is you are experiencing in life.

What is great about this S.T.O.P. exercise is that it is literally a one-minute exercise, and we can all find one minute. If you are saying to yourself: “No, I don’t even have one minute.” I invite you to really explore that belief.

Is it true that you do not have one minute? One day is made up of 1440 minutes – are you absolutely sure that you can’t spare just one minute? You can do this kind of exploration for literally all of your beliefs.

In addition to the little time required for the S.T.O.P.  exercise, it can be done virtually anywhere and at any time (all right, the exception would be when you are driving!).

Press play to listen to this S.T.O.P. guided exercise or read the instructions below at your own pace.

S – Stop what you are doing for just one minute.

T – Take a few slow, deep breaths. Gently direct your attention to your breath. Follow your breath coming in and out of your nose without trying to change your breathing at all. Your breath is like an anchor that brings you into the present.

O – Observe what is going on inside of you without trying to change any of it. Ask yourself these questions:
– What am I thinking right now?

– What am I saying to myself?

Now move to your feelings and emotions. Ask yourself how and what are you feeling right now (for example, upset, sad, mad, neutral, etc.). Now turn your attention to your body. Observe the sensations you are feeling in your body (for example, tightness, holding, lightness, etc.). Again, you are simply noticing without trying to change anything. Interestingly, the simple fact of noticing and naming your emotions has a calming effect.

P – Proceed throughout your day with this new sense of awareness. Because you are now out of this reactive or habitual space and in the present moment, you can make conscious decisions about how to proceed.

Just as with the deep breathing exercise, this S.T.O.P.  exercise can be a one-off kind of exercise when you are feeling stressed, or it can be incorporated into your life on a regular (ideally daily) basis.

Think about things you do regularly like brushing your teeth, showering/bathing, etc. and build the S.T.O.P.  exercise into your practice. As with all practices, we usually need reminders before it becomes a routine, or… practice.

You probably know of Nike’s iconic “Just do it” campaign, which encourages athletes of all levels to push the limits and challenge themselves – instead of just thinking about it, “Just do it.”

Today, the “Just do it” philosophy can be applied to just about anything you want to achieve. Therefore, if you find that you’re stressed and need to take a moment to relax, don’t think about taking a S.T.O.P. break – Just do it!

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