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DBT Skills Series Part 2: STOP Skill

By: Emily Morris, MSWI

In part two in this four-part DBT skills series, we are talking about STOP, a distress tolerance DBT skill. STOP is an acronym that stands for Stop, Take a step back, Observe, and Proceed mindfully. We will walk you through each of these steps and share some situations where this skill might be useful.
In part 1, we discussed cope ahead, an emotion regulation DBT skill. If you haven’t already read our first post, check it out here!

DBT: A Refresher

DBT stands for dialectical behavior therapy and is an evidence-based psychotherapy modality that is effective in developing coping strategies, regulating emotional responses, improving relationships and communication, and gaining awareness of oneself. DBT is commonly used to treat a range of disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
DBT treatment focuses on four main skills categories: emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness. STOP, which we are discussing in this post, is a distress tolerance skill, which means that it helps better manage stress and discomfort, as well as one’s responses to distressing situations. Many of us react to stressful events with negative behaviors, so distress tolerance skills aim to help individuals accept and better tolerate that discomfort. (Previous and subsequent posts in this blog series focus on other skills in the additional three categories.)

STOP: 4 Steps

The STOP skill is broken down into four simple steps that can help you better respond during an emotionally distressing situation:

  1. Stop. Stop whatever it is you’re doing. Do not react to the distressing event, but rather stay in control and freeze for a moment. By reacting impulsively when we find ourselves in a stressful situation, we can often make the situation worse for ourselves. It might be helpful for you to visualize a stop sign in your mind or to pace your breathing to decrease your emotional arousal.
  2. Take a step back. In emotional situations, it can often be extremely challenging to think before you react. This step encourages you to take a moment to calm down and think about your reaction. Take a step back (physically and/or mentally) from the situation, breathe, and regain control of your emotions so that you do not act impulsively.
  3. Observe. Take a moment to observe what is going on around you and within you. What is happening? Who is around you? What are you thinking and feeling? How is your body reacting? Gather this information to take account of your next options. This step allows you to take the time to assess the situation before making a decision about how you will respond.
  4. Proceed mindfully. Now that you have taken the time to assess your situation, you are prepared to respond mindfully and calmly, rather than impulsively. This step encourages you to react with awareness and consider if your response will worsen or improve the situation.

When Should I Use This Skill?

You can find many opportunities in your daily life where the STOP skill might be useful. This skill will be most effective during situations where you might act impulsively or react without thinking. During such events, our emotions take over and we do not have an opportunity to think and consider our options. The STOP skill will help you do just that.

Stay tuned for the next two posts in this four-part series!


Linehan, M. M. (2014). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets. The Guilford Press.
Linehan, M. M. (2014). DBT skills training manual. The Guilford Press.