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Stopping Stress/Distress Using the Power of The “Observer”

Recognizing distress, and having an awareness of how intense your pain is, without running is the beginning of managing it. With that said, there is a “state of mind” or “consciousness” that a person can learn to “be” in for longer and longer periods of time. Using mediation strategies is really an effort designed to alter the state of your brain waves so that you can clear your mind, and make the best choices.

Before we learn about the different brain waves and the use of mediation techniques for the purpose of altering them, we want to develop the “observer” and create “programs” that will “activate” in our mind when we feel stress. These “programs” are the coping strategies that we want to learn to use when we first feel stress or distress coming on. Once we have mastered this, we will have also mastered the art/science of quieting our mind enough to be receptive to altering the brain waves. Altering the brain waves through mediation techniques, will ultimately benefit your ability to regenerate faster, and to be more resilient, make better decisions, and have a clear mind over all.

One very effective technique for developing the observer is to use a “meter” much like a thermometer that has colors to measure how “hot” you are getting; or to measure the “danger” level of your emotion, or feeling, or distress. I like to call it the Stress-O-Meter. Imagine a thermometer that uses colors to measure the level of stress/distress you are feeling. Imagine in your mind’s eye that this thermometer has blue at the bottom-then green, orange, red, and black. (Or make it any way you want really- those are just mine)

BLUE/GREEN: Start with green and blue for cool, or easy levels of stress/distress. Perhaps starting with blue for very cool; then green for feeling “easy”. These two colors represent very little or no stress. Its nice to notice when one is in this state of pleasant calm.

Yellow would represent an alert state. This may be healthy level of stress; much like the level one needs to get something important completed that requires a certain amount of focus. There might be a deadline involved, for example. Yellow will usually carry with it a wide range of stress (and can be pictured as having many shades from very light, to a bold yellow, but does not reach the level of “danger” or threat.

ORANGE: Orange is a warning sign that you have too many multiple stressors, or your ability to tolerate your situation is being stretched beyond its limit- ideally, you will learn to program your mind to activate your chosen coping skills just at line between dark yellow and orange. This is when you feel your shoulders tighten up a little bit, or senses a slight irritation, or feel a sense of urgency. Your automatic response to these physical and emotional sensations will be to STOP. I train many people to actually visualize a big red stop sign in their minds eye. A very effective automatic response sequence is STOP, Breath, STOP Reset. This can take 30 seconds to minutes. You might take several STOP BREATH RESETS until you feel relaxed and re focused.

Orange, like yellow has shades, from light orange to hard bold orange. As you move up the thermometer/meter, you will observe how you are feeling both physically and emotionally. You will also notice your thoughts. When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, or tensing up even more; or you notice that a simple STOP, BREATH, RESET is only lasting a small moment and your are increasingly becoming more agitated, or worried, or distressed; you will increase your coping skills while perhaps taking a long “reset” from 5 to 30 minutes; or even an hour if you are really feeling it. Additional coping skills might be typing out your frustration in an e-mail and then send to self (not the person you are angry with), going to a walk, stopping the current activity and doing something else for a time, reading your affirmations, prayer, talking to a trusted ally, completing your new strategy/plan of action or re organizing your work according to priorities etc. I have mentioned developing your own personalized plan for managing stress and distress, and this would include

Experimenting with several different coping skills and strategies until you find several that work for you and that you use during different “temperature” levels as well as for different stress/distress invoking scenarios. (For example, writing a letter, but not sending it when you are angry, walking when you are on overload, confused and need to stop thinking so you can re-organize your day according to priorities, taking a 30 minute break an drinking calming tea when you are getting tired, etc.) If you “de stress” while in the “Yellow”, then chances are you will rarely find yourself in the “Red”.

RED: When you are in the red- pull out your Wellness and Recovery plan if you have one. (If you want to know more about that, you can review my posts, and you will find it in Bipolar update) It is time to really take a day off. You are in need of “bringing it down”, and recovering/regenerating before you resume your daily routine. This is a real STOP-STOP everything, Breath-and get in contact with your support. Reset will take longer. You will know you are in red if you are feeling as if you are going to loose control (light red/pink) to actually having a “melt down”. The minute your “observer” become aware that you are “melting down” do whatever you can leave the situation and get appropriate help. Appropriate help can range from getting a massage, taking a long shower, calling your support team, calling your therapist, or even calling a help line- depending on how “hot” your thermometer is.

BLACK: Black means you must call out for help. Your Support team might need to take you to the hospital for care. However, you will avoid black by really practicing every day, the art/science of awareness of how you are feeling and taking the time to slowly practice a coping skill when you feel the first sign of stress/distress.

The more often you catch yourself, the better you will get at it. For example, if you are becoming aware just at the yellow/orange level, and you use your coping skills then; you will experience how they help and how you are able to feel better sooner.Over time, you will catch yourself midway through yellow preventing yourself from experiencing a higher level of stress. Eventually, you will be able to notice the very beginning of stress/distress and you will find yourself automatically breathing; automatically systematically relaxing your muscles, and changing up your thoughts with affirmations, happy songs, or silent prayer. One day, you may even notice that you are breathing and singing a song in your head- and you will become aware that this happens every time you become a little frustrated. You might even remember that before, you would have said something that you regretted or escalated and allowed your frustration turn into anger…. If you practice, it does become automatic. Once you feel confident that you have developed this “observer” you can then use this very same “observer” to “go deeper” into meditation where regeneration occurs.

Next post will expand upon mediation, brain waves and altered states of consciousness as an introduction to this process.


Dr. Barbara Bachmeier

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APA Reference
Bachmeier, D. (2015). Stress-O-Meter. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 May 2015
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