Stop, breathe, focus: Mary Augustyn teaches people how to end destructive behaviors |

Stop, breathe, focus: Mary Augustyn teaches people how to end destructive behaviors

FRISCO – You’ve probably heard the old adage, “stop and smell the roses,” but did you know taking the principle one step further can help you avoid overeating, overspending, drinking or smoking?

Mary Augustyn, a licensed professional counselor and mental health counselor, has developed a technique she calls Stop, Breathe, Focus to end problematic behaviors. She teaches people with addictions or compulsions to prevent harmful habits and behaviors by saying “Stop” to themselves, by using a specific breathing pattern and by focusing on a series of cognitive exercises.

The breathing pattern is based on research by Dr. Herbert Benson, who wrote “The Relaxation Response.” It involves inhaling through the nose for a count of four and exhaling through the mouth for the count of eight. Benson discovered the breathing pattern stops the fight-or-flight response and leads to relaxation.

Augustyn represents the last part of her technique with the acronym “FOCUS.” “F” stands for “feelings and thoughts.” After calming themselves, people identify what they’re feeling and what thoughts are contributing to negative behaviors. “O” is for “options.” Based on animal research, there are always at least three options in any given situation – fight, flee or freeze. “C” involves looking at the consequences of carrying through with the behaviors. “U” includes “using positive self talk” to counter the negative thoughts that lead to undesirable behaviors. The final step (“S” equals “self responsibility”) is taking responsibility for actions.

“We’re the only ones that create our behavior,” she said. “No one else makes us want to drink. No one else makes us eat a cupcake or overspend. We are the ones who are creating this behavior.”

Augustyn’s technique is a composite of various treatment modalities, including behavioral therapy, addiction counseling and humanistic approaches. As a result, she believes any part of her technique can help people.

“Sometimes saying “stop’ and doing the breathing is enough,” she said. “Some people focus on various aspects of the “focus,’ (such as) the consequences, which is a problem-solving technique. There are many different parts that can work for many different people because one thing doesn’t work for everybody. If it did, no one would have any problems.”

She developed her technique while working with men who committed violent acts. Her best proof it works came from a man who murdered his wife’s lover. He started her therapy group with cold, dead eyes, but after practicing the method, he was able to control his actions when his girlfriend cheated on him. He contributed his self-restraint to the technique.

Augustyn has worked as a therapist for eight years. She moved to Breckenridge from Louisville, Ky., in January and plans to open a private practice in June. Her free workshop, which will outline her Stop, Breathe, Focus method, takes place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Winds of Change Books and Gifts in Frisco.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at

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