Stopping the snap: Alexander Technique and stress management

Santa by Matthew Mackerras

Christmas. It’s that time of year again. The best of times, the worst of times. So much fun, and yet sometimes so much stress too. D you ever find yourself reacting to circumstances in a way that isn’t very helpful or constructive? Have you ever resolved to do better next time, but when next time came, found your resolve wasn’t enough?

Frankly, how do we stop ourselves from reacting to stressful or difficult events/circumstances/people in a way that isn’t good?

This was exactly the situation FM Alexander found himself in. He realised that he needed to change the way he was reacting to the stimulus to speak, because his instinctive response was causing him to lose his voice.

He had a good think, and worked out a plan for how to open his mouth and use his voice more effectively. But when he tried to use it … He found he wasn’t using it. He was using his old instinctive way instead.

Resolve and planning? Check!

Success? No!

FM realised that he was having trouble implementing his plan because when he had a stimulus to speak, he went on auto-pilot, so to speak. It didn’t matter how good his new plan was, because it never got past his auto-pilot reaction.

And this is what happens to us, too. We have grand plans about how we are not going to snap at our pesky siblings (for example), but at the critical moment, we seem to react without thinking, and snappiness occurs.

So what did FM do? He realised that he needed to switch off the auto-pilot.


“If I was ever to be able to change my habitual use … it would be necessary for me to make the experience of receiving the stimulus to speak and of refusing to do anything immediately in response.” *


And that’s what he did. He refused to do anything immediately in response. He was giving himself the mental space to stop, turn off the auto-pilot, and decide what he actually wanted to do.

So at this time of great stimulus, this is what I’m asking you to do. If there is a stimulus that causes you trouble and grief, make the experience of receiving it, and refusing to do anything immediately in response. Give yourself the space to choose your reaction – or even if you want to react at all.

* FM Alexander, The Use of the Self in the IRDEAT edition, p.424.