Life often throws us curve balls, and I was reminded of this the other day as I had to deal with a flat car battery, and suddenly my plans for the day were thrown out the window and I was left scrambling! As far as emotional upheavals go this was fairly minor thankfully, but I still found myself sitting there feeling pretty angry, frustrated and stressed about how the day was going to go. At that point I realised I was getting wound up so I used a quick 2-minute technique that we often teach our clients, so I thought I would share it here too.
This is a fairly straightforward technique to use when you’re feeling difficult emotions to assist you to step back from the emotional intensity and get more of a birds-eye or helicopter perspective on the situation so that you can then handle it more effectively. The good thing is that it also only takes a couple of minutes! We use the acronym STOP to remember the steps:
Stop what you’re doing and step back from the situation, in your own mind, and perhaps even by changing locations if you think that would be helpful. Give yourself at least 2 minutes to do the next steps.
Take ten breaths – slowly and mindfully. As best you can, commit to noticing the body sensations and changes with every inhale and exhale, either by focusing on the air coming in and out of your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest or belly.
Observe your internal experiences, without criticizing yourself and without trying to change what’s there. Can you label the emotions you’re feeling? Where do you feel these in your body? Are you aware of the qualities of these physical sensations (e.g. any movement like pulsing or throbbing, or temperature)? Are these sensations changing from moment to moment?
Proceed – go back to the situation and take action in line with your values. You may not get a choice about what happens to you or what feelings get triggered, but you do get to choose your actions. You can choose whether you take action that brings you closer to or further from what’s really important to you and the kind of person you want to be in this life.
At the end of this exercise you may very well still experience strong emotions, particularly if life has thrown you a very unpleasant curve ball. The goal here is not to get rid of the difficult feelings, but rather to step back and get unhooked from them. Hopefully this will help you to gain another perspective so that you can have more choice about how you respond in the situation, rather than reacting in a default manner.
To learn more coping techniques contact us at MyLife Psychologists.
Written by Tal Schlosser, Clinical Psychologist