Updated: Mar 24, 2020
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." - Viktor E. Frankl
This is an exercise you can do almost anywhere, anytime because it is very brief and simple. It can be used when experiencing internal or external stressors such as a high-risk or stressful situation, if you are upset about something, or are experiencing urges or cravings to partake in harmful behaviors such as overeating, abusing substances, or any other form of numbing. It can also be used throughout the day to mindfully check-in and bring awareness to inner experiences. This practice can help to avoid impulsive or habitual reactivity and instead respond with more awareness to whatever environment you are in.
S—Slow Things Down
P—Practice Mindful Inner Awareness (body/emotions/thoughts)
A—Anchor with the Breath, Body, or Sound
C—Center on Values, Goals, True Self (access the PNS)
E—Expand, Empower, Experiment with Awareness to What is Truly Needed (future thinking)
S SLOW THINGS DOWN is the most important part of this tool. When our stress response is triggered we have an opportunity to do something different! We can learn to recognize the space (or point in time) between emotionally triggering or risky situations and our response. Celebrate every time you become aware of this opportunity to grow. With the correct tools we can respond to the situation instead of react. When a stressor arises give yourself the gift of slowing things down and turn to your mindfulness practice—finding SPACE to respond with awareness.
P PRACTICE –turn to your mindful awareness practice AND compassionately, non-judgmentally turn inward, observing three things: 1) body sensations 2) emotions and 3) thoughts/beliefs—all without getting caught up in them or taking action. Notice as much as possible about your inner experience. You can even put your hand on your belly, close your eyes and really sense into this internal struggle.
A ANCHOR –the most common anchors are breath in the nose, chest, or belly, sound, or noticing sensations in hands or feet. Become familiar with your anchor before a stressful situation hits, as if it is a dear friend. Turn to it in times of need and to bring yourself to the present moment. On a physiological level this is helping you get out of the sympathetic nervous system, which is our survival mode where we are much more self-centered and wanting to just “feel good now.” (A bad place to be making decisions from.)
C CENTER –once you have responded to your needs with mindful awareness the body automatically begins to switch the nervous system to the parasympathetic, which holds our values, goals, future planning, memory, and high level functioning. Bottom line—we are our true and best self when in our PNS. As you center ask: How do I want to react in situations such as this? What is in alignment with my wise/true self and what I want and/or need in the long run?
E EXPAND –this is your chance to grow and do something differently than you may usually have done in the past. You can even use a simple, but powerful tool called "play the tape forward" and see how your response will affect your future and other’s. Ask yourself: How will I feel later today, or tomorrow, or next week, if I do this, or that, or the other? "E" can also stand for empowerment! Knowing that whatever is happening in the mind and body, there is still a choice as to how to act. You can take this opportunity to do something different and grow—responding–consciously and with awareness to what is truly needed in the situation. Make a list of ways "Expand" and/or "Empower" with what is truly needed--such as; take a walk, call a friend, spend time with a pet, listen to uplifting music, respond in a kinder way to yourself or others, or whatever else may be appropriate. "E"xperiment with mindful ways to handle stress and see what you come up with!