Victor Frankl is famously known for saying, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Frankl is a Holocaust survivor, as well as a neuroscientist and psychiatrist. One of the ways Frankl transformed the experience of being in a concentration camp into something manageable – even meaningful – was to study how people responded to stress. In general, he discovered that even though people were exposed to the same stressor, they responded differently.
Hopefully, none of us have to endure something as traumatic as the Holocaust. Yet, all of us will inevitably encounter unexpected, uncontrollable turbulence in our everyday life – from a heated conversation with a loved one to a last-minute project request.
Even still, the relationship Frankl observed between a stressful situation and our response holds true.
Maybe you’ve seen this in your own life.
Let’s say you and a colleague both receive a last-minute notice from your manager to complete a project by the end of the week. Your colleague is up in arms about the assignment, cursing at your boss, dragging his feet, already looking for a new job. On the other hand, you haven’t given it much thought. Instead, you prioritize the project and ensure it’s completed by the set deadline.
It’s easy to get swept away in an emotional storm when stress hits. Yet, if we drop below the upset, frenetic mind and return our attention to the present moment, we can learn to notice – and create – that space between a stimulus and response
Here’s a brief exercise you can integrate into your day to do just that.
S – Stop in the middle of a stressful situation. Take a moment to set aside what you’re doing, such as sending an email or thinking about a problem.
T – Take a few full, conscious breaths. You might even label the in breath and out breath by saying, “Breathing in,” and “breathing out.”
O – Observe your experience just as it is. Turn the lens of attention toward yourself and simply observe the mind and body. Notice any thoughts that are present – without having to change or fix them. Also, become curious about how you feel. You might even silently name an emotion that describes your current feeling state. Naming emotions has been shown to help diffuse the stress response in the body. Finally, become aware of the body. Notice your posture and gather your attention in places where the body touches the floor or chair.
P – Proceed with intention. Before launching ahead, you might ask yourself, “What do I most need?” Or, “What matters most right now?” Then proactively choose what to do next.
S.T.O.P. is a self-care practice that can help you diffuse stress, gain a fresh perspective, and take action in a strategic, supportive way. Best of all, it’s within your reach at any given moment. You just have to remember to use it!
Can you imagine 2-3 places in your life where you’d like to try this practice? How about choosing one and letting us know how it goes in the comment section below? Your perspective is a gift to our growing community.