Four elements exercise for stress management



The rationale behind the creation of "The Four Elements Exercise for Stress Management" is to address the cumulative effect of external and internal triggers that occur over the course of the day. Since we know that people cope better with stress when they stay within their arousal "window of tolerance," ways to lower stress—especially when under stress—are essential. The heart of the exercise consists of four, brief, self-calming and self-control activities. The sequence of the four elements—Earth-Air-Water-Fire—is designed to follow the body up from the feet to the stomach and chest, to the throat and mouth, and up through the head. It begins with the ground to signify safety in the present reality and moves up to the imagination of recalled safety. By checking in with stress levels at random times throughout the day and also when stressful events are occurring, the exercise can aid in preventing the accumulation of stress and enables clients to stay within their window of tolerance. The modest goal is to reduce the stress level by 1 or 2 units each time the exercise is performed. The original conceptualization of the Four Elements Exercise was that the first three elements could be a preparation for the Safe Place (or other resource exercise such as the Resource Connection), especially when there is an ongoing emergency situation or when it is difficult to find a Safe Place. Often, the fourth element is introduced at the following meeting, as the first three elements are enough to remember and practice in the beginning for clients. Working on the Safe Place separately during the following session gives it more space and impact. It is advisable to follow up on how the client practiced the four elements at the beginning of the next session and to ask them to show you how they do it. If necessary, demonstrate it again at the beginning of the first few sessions. This is a way of checking for compliance and readiness for EMDR as well as present level of stress and sense of safety with you in the room.


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Elan Shapiro

Original Work Citation



“Four elements exercise for stress management,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 31, 2020,

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