Some therapists love acronyms. I'm not generally one of them. But I know that sometimes it can be useful for me and for others to have a tool those moments when we find ourselves overwhlemed, shut down, reactive--challenged to summon whatever it takes to respond appropriately to what is right in front of us. This acronym--STOP--is useful for those situations. Those times when your partner promises to do the dishes and you come home and they're still piled in the sink. Times when you're cut off in traffic. Times when your child looks at you with careful deliberation before slowly pouring their milk onto the table.
What's funny to me is that when I was sharing it with a client for the first time, I couldn't remember the last part of it. I started to explain it this way.
S is for Stop. Stop to buld in a pause before action. Stop before rolling your eyes at your partner. Stop before shouting at the other driver. Stop before sighing in exasperation wth your child. Give yourself just a moment.
T is for Take a Breath. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Then inhale. Notice how deeply you can bring the air into your body: into your nose? Your throat? Your chest? Still deeper, into your belly? Maybe not. That's okay. Just making the effort buys you a little more time before you react. Making the effort reminds you to bring your attention back to yourself, and to your own efforts to be aware of your reaction. And if you're able to draw breath, the breath may begin to calm your bodily response.
O is for Observe. That's all. Just observe yourself with as much compassion as you can muster. Listen to your body first. Notice the feelings of tension: the sweaty palms, the fluttery heart, the clenched jaw, the tingling belly. Or the feelings of heaviness and of lightness. Whatever it is that is happening in your body, attend to it. Then be curious about the emotion below the sensation. You may notice anger or fear or hurt. Or something else entirely.
P is for... and my mind went blank. My client wondered--was "plan" the next step, as in planning one's actions? I didn't think so. That sounded so cognitive. I wasn't sure that a person could there so quickly. Maybe it was "be present"? That felt right to me. I had to go back to this article to be reminded that the next and last step is Proceed.
P is for Proceed. Just go ahead and do whatever comes next, with the greater awareness that comes from slowing down, calming the body with the breath, and noticing what's happening in the moment. Maybe you'll go ahead and do the same thing. Maybe you'll make a different choice. Either way, the awareness you bring begins to create space between the trigger and your reaction. And you get to choose who you want to be in that moment.