T = Take a Step Back/Take a Deep Breath

Step Back

As we have been discussing so far, when you are faced with a difficult situation, whether the situation is actually difficult or if it is just a matter of your perception, the emotional experience you are currently having is one that is completely valid. As a result, it may be hard for you to think about how to deal with it in a healthy adult way, because your system is reacting to the emotional state its stuck in at this time. This is why it is important to give yourself a break, to take the time to de-escalate the emotion that’s active in your system, to calm things down and to give yourself the opportunity to think.

Take a step back from everything. This can either be internally in your mind, externally by physically taking yourself out of the situation you are in, or both. This will support you in getting unstuck from what you think is going on. Take a deep and mindful breath and continue breathing this way as long as you need to. Use the essential Mindful Breathing techniques that we have previously explored, and if possible, in the moment you are in, go to your safe place, or enter your safety bubble. This will help you to reduce the desire to react to the current situation, and lower the emotional experience that is active in your parts.

Remember that you are not your thoughts or your emotions. Try not to let your activated parts overwhelm your system and put you over the edge. I was one of those people who thought that mindful breathing was a joke, and removing myself from the situation was a sign of weakness. This couldn’t be further from the truth, which was expertly highlighted by a very close friend of mine early on in my recovery. This wise minded person demonstrated how this skill had actually worked for me in the past with great success, by anecdotally recognizing it in my addictive use of nicotine. A few years earlier I was someone who would smoke a significant number of cigarettes a day. Every time I got stressed out, upset, angry, or just emotionally activated, you would find me outside “smoking up a storm.”

When we stop to think about this, it actually doesn’t make sense, because nicotine is a stimulant, so there’s nothing relaxing that should happen when you put it in your system, and yet time and time again, there I was, standing outside in all sorts of weather, sucking on my smokes. So why did this work then, and how did it calm me down? As my good friend rightly stated, “think about it, what’s the first thing you do when you feel yourself getting upset?” “I go outside for a smoke” was my reply, as the fact began to dawn on me that this act was the same as stopping what I was doing and removing myself from the situation.

My friend then followed on, “and what do you do next, once you get outside and light your cigarette?” By now a small rye smile had showed up on my face as I replied in a way that was resigned to conceding the point that he was trying to make, “I take a lot of slow deep breaths.” Now I want to be clear, I am not advocating for you to smoke cigarettes to cope with your emotions, and neither was my friend. He was simply pointing out, as am I, that this was actually a demonstration of the first couple of steps in the S.T.O.P skill in a real-life circumstance to prove his vital point. From that day on, I practiced this skill every single day, sometimes 30 to 40 times a day, just without the use of a cigarette to go along with it, so I can speak to its effectiveness from my own personal experience.


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