Over the last few weeks we’ve explored the individual elements behind the second step of my four-step process, Stop, Drop, and Stay – that teaches us how to react skillfully, and with authenticity, when faced with a triggering emotional experience.
It’s now time to put it all together. Below, I’ve summarized each exercise – try practising each of them and explore how you feel afterwards.
1. “Stop” and “Expand” on your awareness
By stopping, we recognize and name what triggers us. We slow the process down by grounding ourselves. By intentionally focusing on a neutral aspect of our experience, we send a message to our amygdala that we’re safe. We calm our nervous system and free ourselves up a bit so that we can do something different.
Stop and slow down with this Grounding Exercise.
Take a moment to notice what you’re experiencing through any or all of your senses. Notice what you see, what you hear, what you touch, smell, or taste.
For instance, notice how the chair you’re sitting in feels against your body. Listen to the sounds of your environment. Notice what you see. Notice what you smell in the air.
As you do these things, describe to yourself what you’re observing.
2. Calm yourself and restore your focus
Regulating our anxiety is especially important if your feelings can often get the best of you. We need to be able to calm the energy around them so that we can see them more clearly.
Try this Breathing Exercise to help calm yourself.
Take a full breath through your nose and then, while pursing your lips as though you’re letting air out through a straw, slowly exhale. Feel the air push against your lips as it slowly leaves your body. Do this three or four times.
Notice what happens while you’re breathing in this manner. You should feel the tension inside you begin to dissipate a bit. You should feel the edge softening.
3. Lean into your emotional experiences
When we “drop”, we focus internally on what’s going on inside of us. We move closer to our felt experience. This is what we need to do so we can feel more in touch with our experiences.
Use this exercise to “drop” into your experience.
Close your eyes for a moment and notice what happens when you do. As everything fades to black, notice how your inner experience suddenly becomes more apparent and feels nearer. Focus internally on what’s going on inside.
Notice what’s going on energetically for you. Notice what sensations you’re experiencing in your body. Feel yourself “drop” into your experience.
4. Shift the balance and stay present
Finally, to better understand how our past emotional experiences affect us, it’s important to recall what just happened to trigger us, and stay with our emotional experience. By abiding with it and giving it room to breathe it’s able to move through us and come to resolution.
To “stay” and review our experiences is perhaps the most difficult step to take, we explored three different “staying” and “parenting” exercises; helping you to truly feel, experience and understand your emotions.
Staying Present Exercise
Close your eyes and go inside. Recall a relationship experience that was triggering and still feels charged to you. Picture it in your mind’s eyes in as much detail as possible. As you do, notice what happens in your body.
Find the place inside of you where you’re feeling physically activated. Breath into it and give it a lot of room. Allow yourself to feel whatever is there. Listen to whatever is there.
Try to look beyond your distress to see what feelings might be underneath. Ask yourself, “What’s coming up for me?” Just notice what reveals itself.
Imaginal Caregiver Exercise
Recall a relationship experience that was triggering and still feels charged to you. Get a mental impression of what happened, then, close your eyes and go inside, locate where you’re feeling activated in your body.
While focusing on your felt experience and any images and beliefs that arose, trace the whole experience back in time. Notice whatever comes into your awareness. You might ask yourself; “Where is this coming from? How far back does it go? How young does it feel?”
Look deeply into the core of your emotional experience. Follow your feelings back in time to the hurt, scared, angry, or distressed child inside of you.
Ask yourself, what does this child need? What would have made this situation better for him or her? Maybe they need someone to recognize and empathize with their pain, sadness, or anger. To tell them they are loved, that everything will be okay. Deep inside you know what your child self needed.
Picture your adult self caring for him or her in just the right way. Let yourself feel what it’s like to be there for the child. Let all the feelings flow. Let your experience be deeply felt. Stay with the feelings as long as they need.
We opened this blog series with a quote from psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung. Now that you have practiced these exercises, let’s revisit Jung’s words. Does your interpretation of these words feel different?
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.
Who looks outside, dreams.
Who looks inside awakens.”
Carl Gustav Jung
Stop, Drop and Stay is only one part of the four-step process that I developed to help you utilize the power of emotional mindfulness to transform your relationships for the better. When practiced by itself, this step can help you to manage your feelings from calmer, more centered place; when combined with the other three steps the impact can be life-changing and help you to relate and connect with others in ways that feel more aligned with who you really are.
I cover all four steps in detail in my latest book Loving Like You Mean It.