STOP Skill – How & When To Use It

Have you struggled with difficult urges or found yourself acting in ways that make a situation worse? You are not alone. The STOP Skill is a DBT skill found in the Distress tolerance module that can really help you slow things down in a difficult situation. As a result, you’re giving yourself time to think about how to respond effectively.

Below are the 4 steps of the STOP skill. However, we go into more detail about each step further on in this article.

The 4 Steps Of The STOP Skill

  1. STOP

    STOP whatever you’re doing.

  2. Take A Step Back

    Take a step back either mentally or physically.

  3. Observe

    Observe the situation, ask what is happening around you?

  4. Proceed Mindfully

    Choose a cause of action mindfully

Examples of unhelpful behaviours that we might want to change:

  • Urges to harm yourself.
  • Using substances to cope
  • Abusing prescription medication
  • Outbursts of anger or frustration
  • Overspending
  • Compulsive eating behaviours

These are just some behaviours that may impact the quality of your life, contributing to problematic situations. The STOP skill can help us to reduce these over times with practice.

Step 1 – Stop

When you feel your emotions, thoughts or urges are taking control… Do not react. Instead, STOP whatever you’re doing.


In other words, do not move.

This prevents you from reacting. Helping you stay in control.

Remember, you do not have to act on your emotions or urges.

Step 2 – Take a Step back

When you’re in a difficult or stressful situation, it can be hard to make the best decisions.

Give yourself some time to process, letting your emotions reduce a little so that you can think clearly.

Distance yourself by taking a step back either mentally or physically. It can help to take a deep breathe.

Step 3 – Observe

Try to observe the situation, ask what is happening around you?

Notice any body sensations, thoughts, or urges.

To make wise choices it is helpful to consider the facts. Making sure you have not jumped to conclusions or made assumptions. It can be helpful to check the facts to make sure you have not missed anything important.

Step 4 – Proceed Mindfully

Hopefully now you are now feeling a little calmer and in control. It’s time to decide how to move forward, ask yourself:

  1. What are my goals?
  2. Is there anything that will make the situation better?
  3. What are the consequences of acting on an unhelpful urge?

This process will help you choose a cause of action mindfully. Therefore allowing you to you act with awareness and avoid making the situation or you feel worse.

An Example Of Using The Stop Skill:

Now we’ll take a look at an example of using the STOP skill. Let’s say that you are experiencing an urge to lash out or attack (verbally or physically) during an interaction. For instance, after someone has said something hurtful. You would STOP, and not move, not saying anything.

Next take a step back and distance yourself psychically from the situation and person. Maybe find a quiet place, just give yourself some room. Taking a few deep breaths in and out.

Now you would probably be able to observe some tension in your body. Perhaps an increased heart rate, and the urge to say or do something. By simply observing these thoughts, you can create distance from them mentally.

Just notice that you do not need to act on them.

To proceed mindfully you would check to see if acting on the urges would help?

You decide that you’ll probably regret it later and it will lead to more conflict. You may want to take some for yourself or refocus so that you can continue with the day’s activities to the best of your abilities.

It’s worth noting that resisting urges and impulsive behaviours can take time. Just simply try to delay acting on the urge or behaviour that you are trying to reduce or change. Each time you practice it the hope is you will find that it gets a little bit easier.

If you are finding it difficult to manage impulsive behaviour and it becomes a threat to your safety or wellbeing, it would be worth reaching out to a trusted person or professional to get help. Lastly, and most importantly, If you are struggling with suicidal ideation or thoughts of harming yourself, please contact the Samaritans or the emergency services.

About The Author

Picture of Ashleigh Wykes

Ashleigh Wykes

Accredited by the UK Association of Psychological Therapies, Ashleigh is our DBT lead and part of our outreach and mental health support team.

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