I’ve been unable to teach mindfulness meditation in groups for the last couple of years due to extenuating circumstances, therefore I’m providing some helpful practice resources below. The first mindfulness activity is called S.T.O.P. The S.T.O.P skill is basically a mini-meditation. This is one of the first skills I teach my clients in therapy. In fact, many of my clients at the conclusion of therapy have said that this was the most effective skill they learned. A small amount of mindfulness practice done consistently over time can have a huge impact on how you perceive and respond to situations.
S.T.O.P is a mindfulness exercise that provides insight into how often we are pulled away from the present moment by distracting thoughts and helps us return to being present. The S.T.O.P skill can be done briefly and periodically throughout each day. Pausing multiple times a day to cultivate mindful awareness can make you more conscious of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. When this skill is practiced regularly it can give you the presence of mind to respond wisely instead of reacting. I have outlined the steps of this practice below.
Stop or pause anytime, anywhere and interrupt the train of thoughts and notice what’s occurring at this moment. Acknowledge how you are feeling or what’s on your mind.
Take a few deep breaths. Breathe in deeply and release the breath slowly. For instance, you may breathe in for a count of 4, pause for a count of one, and breathe out for a count of 8. Make sure to breathe deeply enough so that your belly expands with each in-breath and softens and contracts with each out-breath.
Observe where your mind was before you paused to practice this skill. Were you lost in thought? Notice how your body feels. It is tight, tense, heavy, numb, relaxed, etc? Observe what’s on your mind and how your body feels with curious and open attention. Do your best to suspend judgment, however, if you find judgmental thoughts, just notice and observe the thoughts. There are no action steps needed, simply watch your experience closely without trying to change anything. Do your best to allow your body and mind to experience what is present without resisting. If you have trouble staying present or you are unable to settle your nervous system, you may need to distract yourself until you can regulate your emotions and try again later.
Proceed with the next task or activity with a sense of mindful presence. Do your best to keep your senses awake. When you notice that you’re distracted, begin again.
When practicing S.T.O.P, remember to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings as an observer or witness while doing your best to be non-judgmental, curious, and kind. Be as friendly and understanding to yourself as possible with these practice suggestions. Remember that the key to the mindfulness skill becoming effective is practice. It may not feel like it is working at first, so do your best to be patient in the process. If you are unable to use this skill due to anxiety or panic, you may want to consider using grounding. A simple way to practice grounding is the 5-4-3-2-1 method found below.
If you are feeling anxious or starting to panic consider using the 5-4-3-2-1 method below and modify as you see fit. (You could sit close to your eyes and feel your feet on the floor). Grounding is about engaging the senses. In the skill below you are invited to engage all five senses, however, you may find engaging one sense if most effective for you.
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you SEE. It could be a pencil, lamp, a spot on the wall, or anything in your environment.
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can TOUCH. It could be your dog/cat/pet, clothing, a stress ball, a sea shell, a blanket, or notice the ground under your feet.
3: Acknowledge THREE things you HEAR. Focus on things you can hear outside of your body. Sounds that are close by or far away.
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can SMELL. Gum, mint, essential oil, or any object that has a smell that’s close by. If needed you can go to the bathroom and smell the soap or take a walk outside to see what you are able to detect there.
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can TASTE. Perhaps there is a taste already present in your mouth. Maybe a lingering taste of coffee, tea or food you’ve had to eat. Or if you have a mint or a piece of gum to chew on, this can help you awaken your sense of taste.
Below is episode #39 of the A Keen Mind Podcast. This episode is about coming anxiety with that includes a guided meditation. Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S. affecting about 40 million Americans. While there are many effective treatments for anxiety, only about 36% actually seek treatment.
Mindfulness and therapeutic skills can be helpful to anyone experiencing stress, however, sometimes skills are not enough on their own. If you’re having a hard time with stress, anxiety, trauma or depression you are not alone and it’s wise to consider talking to a therapist. Pushing your feelings down and away does not lead to these feelings getting better. In fact, the more feelings are repressed the stronger they get. Just try to not think of a pink elephant. Dang! There’s a pink elephant. The more we try to not think of something, the stronger it becomes. Processing your thoughts and feelings with a skilled therapist can help you understand the underlying causes of your emotional dysregulation and help you come up with an effective plan to reduce stress and help you find more joy and ease in life.