I teach all of my clients the acronym “STOP” to remember the process they can use to address any strong emotion they’re struggling with. The STOP process allows you to weaken neural pathways created with rewarding a thought, then create new pathways with a thought that helps you get the results you want in life.
S – Slow Down – when we have a strong emotion, our brains tend to get loud and start to spin with so many thoughts. Once we recognize this happening, we can take a moment to slow down and interrupt the spinning. For me, slowing down looks like taking a deep breath, putting down devices that might distract me, and taking a moment to complete the STOP process.
T – Take Control – Take control of your brain. I imagine my brain like a toddler holding a sharpie in a room with white walls and couches. But I am the adult in the relationship with my brain. I have the ability to think with my pre-frontal cortex and use executive functioning skills such as planning and decision making. The sharpie represents all the follow-up thoughts. They usually start with “BUT” and tell me all the horrible things that are awaiting me if I don’t reward my brain in the way it wants. So I (the adult) need to gently take the sharpie (thoughts) away from the toddler (my brain). I actually envision removing a sharpie and tell my brain, “we’re not going to get out of control right now.” I sometimes just imagine the word “Shhhhh.”
O – Observe the feeling in your body. Our emotions show up as physical vibrations in our body. After practicing this skill many times, I can tell you where in my body I feel anxiety, stress, shame, sadness, etc. Find all the places the feeling resides. Your chest? Your shoulders? Your facial muscles? Hands?
P – Process the feeling by describing it. Once you’ve located the emotion in your body, process through it by describing the physical details of the emotion. What color is is? What shape is it? Is it big or small? Does it move? Fast or slow?
It is very important while processing that you stay with describing a the physical aspects of the emotion in your body, not describing it with situations, other people, or images outside of your body. The moment your describing something outside of your body, your brain will likely start spinning out of control again, and you have to go back to the T.
For example, saying anger is “a tangle of bright red scribbles that pulsate in my chest” is very different than saying “It looks like when my mom says something passive aggressive and I want to yell at her but I know I can’t so I have to hold it in!” One leads to you processing, and one leads to your brain spinning out of control (toddler with a sharpie). One leads to calm, one leads to hopelessness.
Learning to process an emotion may seem silly at first, but it is an extremely powerful skill that will allow you to manage your emotions, which ultimately allows you to get any results you want in life. It is a skill that, like any other skill, takes practice, trial and error, and failures, in order to perfect.
The STOP process applies to anything. It helped me completely stop craving alcohol when I was uncomfortable with how often I was drinking more than I wanted. Then I used it to stop eating ice cream after dinner every night (which was keeping me from losing weight!) It helped one client lose 20 pounds in two months, even though she’s struggled for years to lose weight. STOP helped another client overcome debilitating panic attacks that had ruled his life for nearly ten years. It’s helped others stop procrastinating and get control of their schedule (and actually follow through with what they put on their calendar). Another client used it to stop overreacting and losing their temper when frustrated with their teen. A teenage client used it to get on top of assignments to avoid failing a class. It genuinely applies to any situation.
Give it a try and see how managing your thoughts and emotions allow you to control the results you’re getting in life. If you’d like to discuss how to apply it to your situation, book a session!