The “STOP” acronym stands for stop, take a breath, observe, and proceed. This four-step technique can take a minute or less.
Mindfulness has a number of well-recorded benefits. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, the STOP technique being one popular method.
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, the STOP mindfulness technique might help you calm down quickly. You can use it to ground yourself in times of stress and overwhelm.
This simple method is ideal for anyone who wants to practice mindfulness, whether you’re new to mindfulness or a seasoned meditator.
The STOP mindfulness technique is a four-step mental checklist that helps you ground yourself in the present moment. The acronym stands for:
- take a breath
STOP is a mindfulness technique that’s often taught as part of current versions of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses. These programs teach mindfulness skills that could benefit your emotional and physical wellness.
You can use the STOP method at any time, but it might be particularly helpful when you’re stressed, upset, or angry.
Stop what you are doing
The first step is to press pause on your thoughts and actions. Whether you’re in the middle of a confusing exam question or experiencing racing, upsetting thoughts, try to stop for just a second.
This isn’t about fighting your thoughts or trying to “clear your mind,” but about mentally telling yourself that you’re about to shift your attention elsewhere.
Take a breath
This step is about paying attention to your breath. Breathing mindfully is a good way to center yourself in the present moment. You can inhale and exhale mindfully, paying attention to the sensation of breathing.
Observation is a key component of mindfulness: it’s about being aware of your internal and external world.
You can observe your:
- Bodily sensations: What physical sensations are you feeling? Is any part of your body sore or tense? What can you see, hear, taste, smell, and physically feel?
- Emotional state: What emotions are you feeling?
- Mental state: What are you thinking? What assumptions or judgments are you making about yourself?
The “observe” step of the STOP technique gives you the opportunity to check in with yourself and notice how a situation is affecting you.
Once you’re ready, you can continue with whatever it is that you’re doing, whether you’re in the middle of a difficult conversation or trying to focus on work.
Try to incorporate what you’ve learned — for example, if you noticed that you’re feeling stressed out about the exam question you’re doing, perhaps you can skip that question for now and go to the next question.
To use another example, let’s say you’re in the middle of an important conversation with your spouse, and you feel irritated. Using the STOP method, you realize you’re too tired to think clearly, so you both choose to pause the conversation and return to it when you feel rested and calm.
In the meantime, you may consider doing something to help yourself feel better, whether it’s repeating a positive affirmation or mindfully drinking a glass of water.
Mindfulness is about focusing awareness on the present moment while accepting your thoughts and feelings. Because of this, it might help you regulate your emotions, control your impulses, and soothe ruminating (persistent, repetitive, negative thoughts).
According to a 2019 review that focused on the benefits of mindfulness for adolescents, mindfulness could potentially help with the following:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- chronic pain and illness
- disordered eating (including binge eating disorder)
- sleep issues
- stress related to playing competitive sports
- substance use disorders (SUD)
Other research has suggested mindfulness could help with:
alleviating loneliness improving attention
- improving general mood
- managing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- reducing the symptoms of fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome
For mental health conditions, meditation and mindfulness aren’t necessarily a substitute for therapy or prescription medication. Rather, it’s an adjunct treatment, meaning it can be added to traditional treatments — like talk therapy — in order to improve your well-being.
The STOP mindfulness technique is a relatively simple way to ground and calm yourself in times of stress. You can also use it to deepen relaxation and practice mindfulness in everyday situations.