Are you feeling stressed out, losing sleep, feeling emotions charged and mind racing over the upcoming election? I know I am. Friends, clients and family members have reported symptoms as varied as emotional outbursts, difficulty sleeping and preoccupation to being totally disengaged or disconnecting with the process completely.
Whatever reaction we may find ourselves having, mindfulness can help us when we get pulled into intense anxiety, frustration or anger that is unproductive or unhealthy. The first step is being able to take a critical pause and to bring a curious, kind and non-judgmental attention to our reaction in the moment. The acronym STOP is very helpful in this effort.
S = Stop
PAUSE as you recognize you are being triggered & feeling stressed.
T = Take a breath
Take a slow mindful breath in & a slow mindful breath out, bringing your full attention into the body.
O = Observe
- Physical sensations in the body – noticing where the stress shows up in the body & what it feels like.
- Emotional tone – What is the emotional tone or quality?
- Thoughts arising – Noticing the thoughts which accompany the reaction.
P = Proceed (into what is next)
After taking this mindful pause (STOP) we are more able to step back and ask ourselves, how can I best take care of myself in the next moment? What do I care about and long for at the deepest level and what action will be a reflection of that deep longing? For example we can direct our attention to something that is meaningful to us, or direct our energy toward the things that we can do on issues that matter to us. For me, it is remembering how much showing respect and care for ourselves, each other and this planet we share matters to me. I also really want what I say and do to embody that respect and care, whether it is with my grandson, the clerk in the grocery store or an encounter with someone from the other party.
If we get caught in a heated conversation and we are being triggered, we can excuse ourselves & step away respectfully. If it is with a friend or loved one with whom we strongly disagree, it can be helpful to practice some form of empathy or compassion. First, it is important to practice self-compassion for the disappointment and upset we feel, using STOP for ourselves. Then we can refocus our attention on the qualities that we love and care about in this friend or loved one and our shared humanity, the suffering and challenges we all face as humans. Phrases such as “May you be safe and protected as you face the challenges in your life.” Or “May you live with ease and kindness as you face the challenges in your life.”
Bringing mindfulness to our reactions can help bring out the best in us and perhaps help us connect with and reflect back the best in others.