Drop a Stop is a super simple practice to pull out when you have an incessant thought that won’t leave you alone. It’s not for when you’re at a 10 on the stress scale, maybe for when you’re around a 5 through 7 or if you’re beginning to work with some new practices and ways of thinking and need to support yourself a little through the process.
This isn’t for working through our emotions and feelings; it is really important that we allow ourself to feel those. THIS is an in-the moment process for when you’re in a thought groove, where there’s an incessant, troublesome thought that is active for you, and you can’t seem to shake it. This tends to happen to me when I’m driving or when I’m doing the dishes or having a moment where I don’t have anything in particular I need to do.
So when I realize that I have a thought like this bothering me, I say, “Drop a Stop.” A stop sign drops out of the air in my mind and I begin to describe, in great detail, my own personal stop sign that has appeared. When I started this they were often pink and fuzzy like a stuffy and the letters were made of colorful fairy lights, and then as I continued, they started to change and be more varied. Once, my stop sign was made of bark and covered in moss. The letters were cut out completely so that I could see all the way through to what was on the other side of it. My son’s stop sign was much less soft and more metallic looking with scallops of shiny metal on the outside, and although it was still the traditional hexagon shape, it didn’t say the word stop on it at all.
You want to give your stop sign as much detail as you possibly can. The more detail the better.
- What color is it?
- What texture is it?
- What materials is it made of?
- What is the word itself like?
- What are the edges of the sign like?
- Elaborate on the exact way the sign falls out of the sky and how it lands, whether it sits atop a pole or dangles in the air.
- Perhaps a different sign wants to fall, maybe a heart, on its own or simultaneously?
Adding all these details is what gives your thinking (cognitive) brain something to do. And this in turn gets you out of your emotional (limbic) brain. They can’t be activated simultaneously, so if you’re in your thinking brain here, you’re not activating your emotional brain and therefore – you are not activating your nervous system.
If you are Highly Sensitive, these incessant sort of thoughts might be activating your nervous system and putting or keeping you in fight or flight without you even realizing it. This practice is to interrupt the flow of unconscious thought which has your body reacting without you noticing, and certainly without your permission.
And if you have anxiety, thoughts like this are most likely keeping you in a heightened state and making it so that you don’t have any room for anything else. They’re keeping you in fear and hopelessness. Sometimes yes, you’ll just have to deal with the fact that a troublesome thought is really active today and know that you get to start fresh again in the morning. But this can be a gentle way to feel a little relief from the thought for a little while and get its level of perceived importance to begin to fade.
You are also deactivating the energy of the thought, just by taking your attention off it and putting it onto something else, by not letting the thought be such a big, all-consuming thing for a little while. As you practice this, the thought will most likely have less activation energy and will, at least for a while, and perhaps for longer than you expect over time, dissipate on its own without you trying to manhandle it into submission.
For some added benefit of this simple practice, you could:
- describe your stop sign out loud, you may find that hearing your voice helps to fully immerse you in the description and also, the act of talking also goes through your cognitive brain, so talking about it could have extra benefit.
- draw and color your stop sign; coloring-in has lots of nice benefits including greater focus.
- write about all the details of your stop sign, this allows your thinking brain to kick in even more.
- read this about a time I used this practice with success.
(originally written in 2022)