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The Powerful Practice of STOP

We all have different stressors in our lives and cancer can highlight them. As Dr. Frankl suggests, our choice to respond rather than react to stressors offers us an internal sense of power and freedom. At InspireHealth, we provide tools to help shift a person’s reactions into responses. This post explores how the mindfulness practice of STOP can help us communicate responsively. STOP involves four steps: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, and Proceed mindfully.

Communicating with others offers opportunities to respond – rather than react – every day. Communication can be stressful at the best of times, and often, and even more so, while living with cancer. Whether you’re the patient or the caregiver, on any given day, you may need to converse with many different people including family, friends, health care providers, pharmacists, booking personnel, and others. Practicing STOP can help increase awareness and reduce stress in our communication.

Let’s imagine a common communication that may be part of many people’s cancer experience. A well-meaning person in your support system texts to say, “I am here if you need anything, just let me know”. This text could be sent to the patient or a caregiver. Let’s practice STOP and notice our reaction to this message.

S – Stop. Put down whatever you’re doing. Pause here for a precious moment.

T – Take a breath. Inhale and exhale mindfully. Continue with intentional breathing.

O – Observe. How are you reacting to this note? What is happening internally and externally? How are you feeling? This pause creates space and increases self-awareness. The history you have with this person will influence how you feel and the expectations you have around this message.

How much stress you are feeling generally will also influence how you feel reading this note. Some of us might have pleasant feelings: “That’s so nice they reached out”. Some of us might feel quite neutral. Others might feel overwhelmed or hurt: “I don’t know what I need” or “I just wish you knew how to support me”. Observing and being curious about our feelings is the key. Your feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are, and they give us information to better understand ourselves. Our freedom lies in first observing and paying attention to our feelings and, as Dr. Frankl said, then choosing how to respond.

P- Proceed mindfully and compassionately. Pause and ask yourself, “How do I want to proceed? What do I need”? You might respond with: “Thank you, it means a lot to feel your support”. You might need to identify what would be most helpful and then ask specifically for the help you need. “Thanks for asking; it would be so helpful if you could take my dog for a walk” or “Could you check in with my partner to see how they are doing with all of this”? If the pause has reminded you that your energy or resources are low at this point, you might decide to ask a caregiver to respond on your behalf. If you are triggered by the message and emotions are running high, you might need to take some time before you decide how to respond. This pause will move you out of an automatic place of reaction. There are many options, but whatever the choice, this invitation to STOP gives you an opportunity to respond from a place of self-compassion and awareness.

How will you practice STOP? How can you find the space between stimulus and response? Try STOP as an experiment to help reduce the stress that often comes with communication.

Mindfulness meditation is a helpful way to learn to respond rather than react to life. Meditation expands our awareness and our ability to STOP. We invite you to join us in one of our 3 weekly meditation classes. See on our online schedule to register.