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  • Sara Mann

Coping Skill: STOP SKILL

My mind travels a million miles a minute. My emotions travel even faster than that. Throughout recovery I have found myself in a lot of situations where I either have become SO emotional that I don’t know what to do, or my mind is racing and repeating and I can’t get it to stop.

One day I decided I was ok enough to go shopping at Target. I was having one of those days where I had accepted my current weight, knew I needed some clothes and had an, “I can do this,” attitude! That attitude lasted about 3 solid minutes into shopping. I immediately became overwhelmed by the amount of clothes I could NOT buy and the little, yet big, number on the tags of the clothes I was trying to buy. I became distraught seeing all the other women shopping in normal jeans and cute tops, while here I was in my typical tent dress, covering my belly, seeing if any of the maternity section dresses might cover my current adult toddler shape. My mind started to race, my face got hot, my body started to sweat and I just couldn’t calm down. Instead of calling it a day I decided that "I am a strong woman and I can do this!" So I took my new finds into the dressing room to try them on……not smart. I don’t know what could have possibly made me think that trying clothes on with my emotions high was a good idea. In hind site I should have just called it a day and walked out of the store…but my pride got the best of me and I plowed on through.

In the dressing room, what started out as sweaty palms and a fast beating heart, quickly turned into actual tears, flooding down my cheeks while I sat there trying to get a hold of myself. I could not. I literally could NOT stop crying. I tried breathing exercises, I tried counting the tiles on the floor, I tried stating facts, I even reached out to girls in my support group..NOTHING worked. I had to wait out the crisis, calm down and then quickly and shamefully leave the dressing room with a red blotchy face and no clothes.

This scenario has happened many many times. If it isn’t shopping at target, it’s being out to eat with friends, or seeing the calories on the dang Panera menu, someone calls me pregnant, or I’m at the beach and see bikini body after bikini body. Over and over again I find myself in a situation where my mind and emotions go into crisis mode. It is full on distress and I am a prisoner to it. Until of course my handy dandy therapist introduced me to a new coping skill.

After sharing with her many occasions where I become emotionally flooded and mentally frantic she shared with me that there is a better way to cope with this then to sit crying in a target changing room. The Stop Skill. This is a DBT(1) skill that helps with distress tolerance. It helps me get through a crisis and slow me down. The purpose of this skill is to stop myself from reacting to my emotions and allowing them to control me as well as stop my mind from going in circles over and over about something

The Stop Skill is an acronym.

S - Stop!

T - Take a step back!

O - Observe the situation

P - Proceed effectively (or mindfully)

So, now that you know what it is, how do you use it?

Well, simply enough, you do exactly what it says! You stop, take a step back, observe the situation and proceed mindfully!

First of all, it’s important to remember to use the skill as quickly as possible. I can stop at any point and use the skill, but in my experience it is MOST effective before I allow my mind and emotions to take off. In my story above, right when I started to feel upset about the size of the clothes I was buying I should have used the Stop Skill. It would have kept me from further emotional crisis. If I miss the boat the first time around, I can of course use it later. In the dressing room I could have also used the Stop Skill, it’s just much harder once the crisis has begun.

So, using my target disaster story from above, I’m going to give an example of how the Stop Skill works!

I was feeling confident, I decide to go shopping, I get into target and BOOM…I’m starting to feel upset about the clothing size I have to try on. I’m feeling the tears come to the surface, I’m feeling sweaty and my heart starts to pound.

STOP! - I stop in my tracks and do not continue to shop.

TAKE A STEP BACK! - I put the clothes down, maybe I even decide to walk out to my car or find a quiet corner.

OBSERVE THE SITUATION - I zoom out and take a look at what is happening. I’m shopping, I’m feeling overwhelmed and upset about the size of the clothes I’m picking out. I’m comparing myself to others. I’m starting to have negative thoughts about my body and diet again. It is leading me into black and white thinking that I will NEVER have my body back.

PROCEED MINDFULLY/EFFECTIVELY - I try to look at the situation with my wise mind. Should I continue to shop, or should I accept that today I am not ready for this and I can try again another day? Am I able to remind myself that how my body is today is not how it always will be, and I need clothes, or am I feeling so overwhelmed with emotion that I offer myself compassion and leave?

After I do all this I have stopped my mind and emotions from taking over and I am able to take a more objective and wise look at what is happening and proceed in a way that is healthy. If I found that I would not be able to continue to shop, I would choose to leave the store. If I found that I was able to use another coping skill to challenge my thoughts about the size of the clothes and my body and felt confident I could continue, then great, I continue. The whole purpose is to STOP myself from becoming overly emotional and make a decision wisely.

I use this skill ALL. OF. THE. TIME. Which is funny because you would think it is incredibly obvious to just stop and figure things out wisely. Well, when you suffer from anxiety and have an eating disorder that hijacks your brain, we need to make it a skill and use it! It doesn't just come naturally!

Another example...

I will be in Panera and I see all the menu options with all the calories next to them. (which btw...when is this going to stop? Studies already find this doesn't work and is unhealthy.) My mind starts to race and I start having thoughts about what is better? Is it wrong to eat something that is 500 calories? Should I just get a salad? Is that my ED that wants the salad? I kind of wanted the sandwich but the sandwich is 400 calories! Maybe I should just leave?!

STOP! Breathe! I am freaking out about the calories in this place and because of it I am feeling overwhelmed and unable to think clearly. I know that it is not in my values to count calories. I know that counting calories does not make me a better or worse person. I know that calories give me energy and I need them for my body to heal. If I choose a sandwich with 400 calories that is completely normal. My goal is to listen to my body and to eat intuitively. What do I actually think sounds good? What is my body telling me it is hungry for and how hungry am I? Remember, I can always stop when I’m full! Ok, I will order the sandwich! I am very hungry, it is normal to eat, I have eaten sandwiches before and am still alive and it sounds like it will taste good!

I’ve used it in stores, restaurants and even when I’m in a hard conversation. As long as I can remember to use it and I’m not already flooded with emotions, it helps me every time and I hope it helps you too!


-Sara -

1) Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a cognitive behavioral treatment developed by Marsha Linehan, PhD, ABPP. It emphasizes individual psychotherapy and group skills training classes to help people learn and use new skills and strategies to develop a life that they experience as worth living. DBT skills include skills for mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.

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