STOP and Choose Our Behavior

We go through a lot of our lives acting on automatic pilot and out of habit, which can make it difficult to change our behaviors. The STOP exercise can encourage behavioral activation, because it allows us to be more mindful of how we act. It gives us a moment to pause, and then consider what we want to do next. And this makes it more likely that we’re able to choose behaviors that can help relieve depression, instead of just falling into habitual patterns that can contribute to depression, or acting automatically based on our moods and how we feel.

STOP stands for:

  • Stop what you’re doing
  • Take a step back
  • Observe
  • Proceed

We can even add an extra “P” for Plan, to help us choose how we wish to Proceed.

The STOP Excercise

This transcription was auto-generated by YouTube. I’ve only added minimal editing, so I apologize for any errors, run-on sentences, etc.

Stop is a distress tolerance skill from dialectical behavior therapy and a great tool to use whenever we’re feeling overwhelmed or in distress or experiencing uncomfortably strong emotions. Stop is an acronym that stands for stop, take a step back, observe, and proceed.

When we stop we stop whatever we’re doing right away. If we’re talking or arguing with someone, we stop. We shut up. We don’t say anything more. If we’re working, either at our jobs or doing something around the house, we stop working. Not as soon as we finish whatever we’re working on. We stop right now. If we’re doing something on our phones, we stop and put them away. If we’re engaging in some impulsive or self-destructive behavior. We stop that.

Stop sounds like a really simple instruction, but sometimes it’s hard to stop, either because we’ve already gathered so much momentum it can be hard to put on the brakes, or because we want to keep going so we can just finish whatever we’re in the middle of. Or we don’t want to stop because stopping means we’re going to have to acknowledge something we’re trying to avoid, like a conflict, or some uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, and we’d rather just keep going so we don’t have to think about this problem, and can just keep ignoring it.

But the longer we wait to stop, the more dangerous things become, and the more likely it is we end up past the point of no return and find ourselves in the middle of some sort of crisis that can be really difficult to get out of. So as soon as we notice we’re starting to feel distressed, or overwhelmed, or panicky, or frustrated, or angry, or engaging in some impulsive or unwanted behaviors, or having any other sort of strong negative experience, that’s when we need to stop right away.

And then as soon as we stop we take a step back. The t in stop stands for take a step back, but i also like to think of it as t for time out. Taking a step back is like taking a time out. It gives us a chance to remove ourselves from the situation, get some perspective, and calm ourselves down.

And the t can also stand for take a breath. One of the best things we can do to help calm ourselves down is to take a few breaths, slow down our breathing, and follow our breath for a few moments, using our breath to help reconnect ourselves with the present.

And then we observe. We observe what’s going on outside ourselves, and in particular what other people are doing. We observe our own behavior, what we’re saying and doing and how we’re acting. And we observe what’s going on inside ourselves, observing our thoughts feelings and emotions and the physical sensations in our bodies.

Observing makes us more aware, gives us some perspective, and it helps us see things more clearly and gives us the information we need to take the final step, p, which stands for proceed. But i also like to think of the p as standing for plan. So before we proceed we can take a moment to reflect on what we’ve observed, figure out our goals for the situation and the most effective way we can accomplish them.

If we’re having a conflict with someone else, we can plan how to de-escalate, how we’d like to resolve the situation, and what we’d like to say. If we’re acting impulsively or out of emotional mind, we can plan to connect with our wise mind. And if we’re frustrated with something we’re working on, we can plan what we need to do to complete the task. And if we’re experiencing negative thoughts or our minds are racing, we can plan to do something to help calm our minds. And if we’re experiencing some uncomfortable emotions or physical sensations, we can plan to do some emotion regulation.

And then once we’ve come up with a plan, or even if we didn’t feel it was necessary to come up with a plan and have just stopped, taken a step back and observed, now it’s time to proceed mindfully, perhaps re-engaging with whatever prompted us to stop in the first place. And now acting with more awareness, taking into account our thoughts and our feelings, and our goals for the situation. And if other people are involved, their thoughts feelings and goals as well.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them on the YouTube video page.