29 March 2023

Mastering Stress with the STOP Mindfulness Technique: A Guide to Using MBSR to Manage Anxiety and Sedentary Lifestyles

by Dr. Rohit Kumar

This blog explores how STOP and MBSR can help manage stress and anxiety and the importance of avoiding a sedentary lifestyle for mental health.

Image of a doctor with a patients

The “STOP” acronym stands for stop, take a breath, observe, and proceed. This four-step technique can take a minute or less.

Mindfulness has a number of well-recorded benefits. There are many ways to practice mindfulness, the STOP technique being one popular method.

If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, the STOP mindfulness technique might help you calm down quickly. You can use it to ground yourself in times of stress and overwhelm.

This simple method is ideal for anyone who wants to practice mindfulness, whether you’re new to mindfulness or a seasoned meditator.

What is STOP mindfulness?

The STOP mindfulness technique is a four-step mental checklist that helps you ground yourself in the present moment. The acronym stands for:

  1. stop
  2. take a breath
  3. observe
  4. proceed

STOP is a mindfulness technique that’s often taught as part of current versions of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses. These programs teach mindfulness skills that could benefit your emotional and physical wellness.

You can use the STOP method at any time, but it might be particularly helpful when you’re stressed, upset, or angry.

How to use the STOP mindfulness technique

Stop what you are doing

The first step is to press pause on your thoughts and actions. Whether you’re in the middle of a confusing exam question or experiencing racing, upsetting thoughts, try to stop for just a second.

This isn’t about fighting your thoughts or trying to “clear your mind,” but about mentally telling yourself that you’re about to shift your attention elsewhere.

Take a breath

This step is about paying attention to your breath. Breathing mindfully is a good way to center yourself in the present moment. You can inhale and exhale mindfully, paying attention to the sensation of breathing.


Observation is a key component of mindfulness: it’s about being aware of your internal and external world.

You can observe your:

Bodily sensations: What physical sensations are you feeling? Is any part of your body sore or tense? What can you see, hear, taste, smell, and physically feel?

Emotional state: What emotions are you feeling?

Mental state: What are you thinking? What assumptions or judgments are you making about yourself?

The “observe” step of the STOP technique gives you the opportunity to check in with yourself and notice how a situation is affecting you.


Once you’re ready, you can continue with whatever it is that you’re doing, whether you’re in the middle of a difficult conversation or trying to focus on work.

Try to incorporate what you’ve learned — for example, if you noticed that you’re feeling stressed out about the exam question you’re doing, perhaps you can skip that question for now and go to the next question.

To use another example, let’s say you’re in the middle of an important conversation with your spouse, and you feel irritated. Using the STOP method, you realize you’re too tired to think clearly, so you both choose to pause the conversation and return to it when you feel rested and calm.

In the meantime, you may consider doing something to help yourself feel better, whether it’s repeating a positive affirmation or mindfully drinking a glass of water.

How to Use Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to Chill Out

MBSR can help you manage stress, chronic pain, and other health conditions when life feels overwhelming.

Mindfulness is the act of orienting yourself to the present moment with attention and awareness. It can include paying greater attention to your breath, environment, body, and accepting and releasing passing thoughts and emotions.

Practicing mindfulness means becoming more aware of your thoughts and emotions. Often from the perspective of a detached outsider or from a place of curiosity without judgment.

Mindfulness can ease:

  • mind-wandering tendencies
  • self-criticism and negative self-talk
  • rumination
  • anxiety about the future
  • And according to 2019 research, mindfulness can also reduce fatigue, pain, and stress in those who live with chronic pain.

An effective evidence-based mindfulness treatment for stress management is

mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). According to a 2017 review, MBSR was reported to significantly reduce depression relapse and improve chronic pain management.

Can a Sedentary Lifestyle Cause Anxiety?

Sitting too long every day can affect your physical and mental health. Taking breaks to walk or stretch can help.

Between the predominance of computer jobs and the rise in work-from-home situations, you might find yourself sitting more than ever. One in fourTrusted Source Americans sits for more than 8 hours a day.

Spending an average day curled up on the couch with your laptop followed by downtime in front of the TV or video games can affect your physical health — and possibly your mental health.

When you live a sedentary lifestyle, you’re maintaining an unhealthy balance of activity and rest

— emphasis on resting. Sitting too long on average impacts you independently of achieving sufficient exercise.

How does being sedentary affect your mental health?

According to a research , most young adults sit for more than 9 hours a day, putting them at a greater chance of developing a chronic disease.

Additionally, leading a sedentary lifestyle may increase your chance of anxiety and depression.

Low sleep quality may be the culprit for those impacted greatly, such as young college students. When you’re not getting a good night’s rest, it can snowball into other health concerns such as a lack of motivation and anxiety.

A 2020 study polled and examined over 28,000 college students and found sedentary behaviors were associated with anxiety, depression, and suicidal behavior. Those with sedentary lifestyles were less likely to be physically active.

Even with 150 minutes of weekly exercise, sitting more than 8 hours a day can negatively affect your mental health, according to a 2021 study.

Researchers suggest that when people spend less time sitting, they may be more likely to get out and do the uplifting things they love instead of potentially staying in bed or on the couch, feeling depressed.

Can inactivity cause anxiety?

A 2015 reviewTrusted Source found that there’s moderate evidence for the relationship between sedentary behavior and increased anxiety. But more high quality research is needed to confirm those findings.

Why are prolonged sitting and increased anxiety linked?

One theory is that sedentary behavior stems from the frequent use of screen-based entertainment such as video gaming. As a result, your brain becomes excited by the activity, while increasing anxiety at the same time.

A 2020 review discussed how too much screen time can affect your sleep and also increase your stress, leading to more anxiety.

Another theory is that inactivity sets off a chain reaction causing other health conditions. For example, sitting for prolonged periods can lead to diabetes. As a result, diabetes can negatively impact your mental health.

It’s also possible anxiety leads to inactivity, rather than vice-versa. When you experiencesymptoms of anxiety, you may tire easily and experience sleep difficulties, leading to less physical activity.

Emotional health and physical activity are connected. For example, when you engage in more physical activity, you gain confidence and may develop more social connections. As a result, you can boost your mood and reduce your symptoms of anxiety.

Tips to manage a sedentary lifestyle

It’s not too late to change your routine and engage in a more active lifestyle. Here are some tips you can try to help you sit less and get moving.

Take movement breaks

Every hour, schedule a 10-minute break to move. You could stand, stretch, jog in place, play with your dog, or walk to get the mail.

Consider getting a standing desk if your computer-based job is the main culprit leading you to sit for many hours.

Build physical activity into your daily routine

Thirty minutes of exercise for 3 to 5 days a week can counteract a sedentary lifestyle. Research from 2013Trusted Source found that movement significantly improves anxiety symptoms.

By fitting activity into your schedule, you can better your chances of doing it without feeling rushed.

Consider using 30 minutes of your lunch break to get in a good walk, or perhaps waking up just a half-hour earlier to fit in some activities without causing more stress.

Go slow and start small

If you’re not already physically active, try to start slowly and work your way up to the level of exercise you need. Some examples of starting small include:

  • park farther away from your work
  • skip the elevator and take the stairs
  • help a loved one do yard work
  • walk your dog

Then, you can gradually increase the time and intensity each week.

Find a partner to join

Activity is always more fun with a loved one or friend. They can also help you stick to your routine.

A 2015 studyTrusted Source on aging among romantic partners found that when one partner changes their behaviors to healthier ones, the other partner may be more likely to make the same change.

Set a motivating goal

You want your activity goals to be specific and realistic. It’s crucial that goals are achievable, so you’ll be motivated, not discouraged.

Examples of goals include:

  • walk one mile a day, 3 days a week
  • attend aerobic class 2 times a week
  • 15 minutes of weightlifting 2 times a week for the next month
  • Consider speaking with a healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise regime to make sure it’s safe and beneficial for you.
Blog written by Dr Rohit Kumar

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