Feeling Stressed? Try Mindful ABC

Beautiful casual bored or sleeping student woman by a desk.

When you feel stressed, worried, anxious or overwhelmed, you can try following a practice called Mindful ABC.

It is not a substitute for daily formal meditation, but rather a complementary practice that can help you cope with the stressful situation at the moment.

The way it works is better your daily meditation practice gets, easier it becomes for you to try Mindful ABC and more likely it will actually work.

Step A stands for Awareness

Step B stands for Belief reframing

Step C stands for Choice

Here is how it works


In this step…

  • You bring awareness to the signs and symptoms of the stress or overwhelm.
  • Primarily the feeling of being stressed or being overwhelmed is there that can be felt.
  • But there are physical sensations and thoughts that are also present that you can become aware of.
  • At times the only apparent signs is your behavior. You may start avoiding things, or you may just become very irritable.
  • You always start with recognizing and becoming aware of the distinct feeling of being stressed or overwhelemed. This is an inherently unpleasant feeling.
  • Next easiest place to bring awareness is with physical sensations or symptoms.
  • Perhaps you notice the sensations right away.
  • If not you may have to scan through the body.
  • Start with the head and then move through the neck, shoulders, chest, belly, legs and feet.
  • Common places where you feel physical are in your head, face, stomach and chest. But it can be somewhere else for you. These symptoms are very individual.
  • The examples are the heaviness in head, tingling at the top of your head, warmth in your face, twitching on your face or eyelids, vibrations in chest or stomach or butterflies in stomach.
  • With practice you can also become aware of thoughts that are present. Although it tends to be hard to notice thoughts.
  • Or you can also notice the change in behavior, e.g avoidance or irritability.
  • The recommendation is not to try and cover all components of the experience e.g. physical sensations, thougths, feeling and behavior, but become aware of at least one component.
  • May be all you became aware of was the feeling tone of being stressed. Or may be you just noticed the funny feelng in your head.
  • After having noticed one of the aspects of your stressful experience for a few seconds you want to ask yourself the question “What is causing me to feel stressed?”
  • Perhaps it is because what someone said to you, presence of an individual you don’t like, an impending dealine or anticipatory thoughts about something that can go wrong in the future.

Typically when you feel stressed or overwhelmed, you get caught up in the reactivity. You experience the state of feeling stressed, worried or overwhelmed, but you get caught up in associated thoughts and you fully identified with the thought.

Then you are fully occupied with the scenario of what if you run into financial trouble in the future. Or what if you can’t meet the deadline at work. What if the neighbor threatens with the lawsuit.

Those thoughts are playing out in your mind, you are fully identified with them and there is no awareness.

In this practice, you try to bring awareness to the situation.

As you continue to practice Mindful ABC, see if you can expand your awareness and notice other aspects of experience, e.g. thoughts, sensations or behavior change that are present with feeling stressed or being worried.

You may realize that there is the feeling of unplesantness that is present and along with it, there is a resistance or a desire for that feeling to go away or be not there. You notice that you don’t like being stressed, or worried.

Normally you may have a vague sense of all of this, but here with Mindful ABC practice you are intentionally shining the spotligth of awareness to what is present in terms of physical sensations and the general feeling.

Next, you want to bring awareness to the trigger or the stimulus that caused you to feel stressed.

At this stage you are bringing awareness to the cause of your stress. What it is that is actually causing you to feel stressed.

Belief Reframe

During this step…

  • You try to revisit your basic belief about what causes you stress.
  • And you try to reframe that belief so that the stressful situation become more meaningful to you.
  • In reality stress is a fight, flight or freeze response that is an evoluation adaptation to get us out of the harms way. It is meant to restore balance within out body mind system.
  • You can say to yourself, “I am feeling stressed, because my body is trying to get me out of the harms way, or my body is preparing me to appropriately deal with the situation that is at hand.”
  • Normally you get caught up in thoughts or the resistance during the stressful situation and your relationship with stressful situation may just be plain unpleasant.
  • With practice over the period of time, you can get to a point where awareness can help you visit your beliefs about the situation.
  • And once you are able to successfully reframe your beliefs about stress, it may make your expereince more meaningful.

It is okay, if you can’t reach to the belief reframing step and just get caught up after the awareness step.

This practice is not expected to work in a rigid A, B, C sequent right away.  This practice is something you can keep trying over and over again and gradually you will get better at it.

It is completely okay to just to the stap A and abandone the practice.


The hope is that eventually you will get to this step.

In this step you choose how you go about the next steps, having become aware of your stressful situation.

  • You have ascertained you feel overwhelmed and unpleasant.
  • You also became aware of the cause of your stress.
  • Now you have to do a little more analysis.
  • You need to ask yourself the quetsion. “Is the cause of your stress, something that you can change or influence?”
  • If it is a presentation that is due, can you get to work and finish it?
  • If it is a looming deadline, is there a point in giving your 100% for the remaining time you have and actually doing it?
  • If it is a child throwing tantrum in a public place, can you take your child home?
  • If it is your boss gettnig mad at you, is there a point in setting up a meeting with boss to try and clarify the sitaution?
  • If it is what someone said to you,
    • Can you stop them from saying things?
    • You can’t stop others from saying things.
    • In that case, does shouting back to the person help? Not really.
    • But this doesn’t mean you become the doormat.
    • You can still tell them without shouting that what they did was insensitive and you don’t appreciate it.
  • If you don’t like the presence of a person,
    • Is it really upto you when and where that person presents himself? Not really.
    • What can you do then?
    • You can try to run away.
    • But then you will have to be ready to run away all the time and perhaps you will find yourself running away all the time. And not only that, others will be dictating your life.
    • You can try to accept that you don’t like the person but you might be okay with their presence. Maybe?
    • So that they don’t dictate your life anymore and you don’t have to start liking them. But yes you still have to have some amount of acceptance of your dislike.
  • The point is that, if there is a source of stress, which you can easily avoid, you do that.
  • If the source of stress is something you can’t control, it helps to accept that it is beyond your control and not try to “fix” the situation.
  • In order to make a proper choice of the “next steps” you need to have clarity about the current situation.
  • There cannot be clarify about the current situation if you are caught up in your stress reactivity.
  • You can use awareness to get yourself out of the reactivity and be more present.
  • Once you are present and paying attention you can start thinking clearly about what is the best way out your situation.
  • Again, you might not be able to reach this step earlier in your practice. And that’s okay.
  • The hope is you can do the full sequence with practice, over the period of time.


When you feel stressed.

  • See if you can first become aware that you are feeling stress.
  • See if you can notice the source of the stress.
  • Try to reframe your beliefs about stress. In reality you feel stress to do something about the situation and get yourself out of the harms way.
  • See if you can have a moment of clarity where you can contemplate your next choices.



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