On the second day of the year, at a dark and cold 5:30 AM, I saw the red and blue flashing lights behind me as I’d barely gotten out of my neighborhood on my way to yoga.

I credit regular meditation with the fact that I didn’t panic, freak out, or involuntarily start crying when talking to the cop. I probably would have done all those five years ago. I know I did all those 15 years ago during college, when I got my two and only traffic tickets ever.

This time I just thought, “Uh oh. He’s gonna get me for rolling a stop sign.” Sigh. “Well, if I’m late to yoga I guess I’m late to yoga. Just breathe.”

The cop came up to my window and said, “I pulled you over for disregarding a stop sign.”

I couldn’t argue.

When I first moved to the neighborhood two years ago, I dutifully came to a complete stop at every stop sign. After a couple years of having 5 stop signs between my house and the first main road, I confess I’d gotten complacent and started to roll them a bit. I’d also noticed that particularly in the early hours of the morning, or anytime there wasn’t cross traffic, most everyone in the neighborhood barely acknowledged the stop signs with a minor slowdown. One frightening morning I observed someone fly through at probably 40 miles an hour without noticing me in the cross traffic. I would have gotten t-boned if I hadn’t been paying attention. So despite my minor rolls, I considered myself as close to good stop sign etiquette as anyone.

As the saying goes, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

I collected my ticket and got back on my way. Fortunately, I’d made a practice out of leaving early enough not to rush, and despite the 10-minute delay, I made it to yoga class (barely). On my way, I reflected.  “I don’t want to start off the year with this energy, so how can I reframe what just happened?” This year I’m really working on expanding my visibility and my coaching business, and I had a brainflash: “I’m attracting the attention of the outside world!” Woohoo!

My coach later challenged me to take it in a different direction: “Where in your life are you disregarding a stop sign?”

That stopped me short.

It took me a while to come up with an answer because I’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years listening to my stop signs and heeding them. So where was I still rolling? I found an answer that encompassed all six dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, and social. To get a feel for what those mean, let’s take a look at some general warning signs you might experience in each dimension.

Some Wellness Stop Signs: 

Keep in mind this is not an all-inclusive list, just a sampling. Some I’ve experienced, some I’ve seen or heard from others.


1) Falling asleep in meetings at work (not getting enough quality sleep at night)

2) Getting sick on vacation

3) Heart attack


1) Being easily triggered, reacting automatically vs. choosing a response

2) Wanting to submerge or push emotions away vs. experiencing and learning from them

3) Repeatedly reliving past stressful experiences, causing excessive stress in the present


1) Wondering, “Why are we doing this, what’s the point?”

2) Feeling at odds with organizational culture, feeling drained simply by showing up at work

3) Burnout, lack of life balance, lack of connection to a grander purpose


1) Reading the same page of a book over and over again to remember what it says (lack of focus)

2) Tons of things on the to-do list but feeling paralyzed about where to start (lack of clarity)

3) Freezing on the job, blanking on an evaluation or during a presentation


1) Lighting or other environmental factors causing headaches

2) Temperature distractions (too hot or cold to focus)

3) Work or living space clutter causing overwhelm


1) No one but you coming into your house for a year

2) Lack of trust/fulfillment in personal and/or work relationships

3) Wrong type of social interaction for you (too much, too little, hanging out with a crowd not consistent with your values)

We could spend days going through each one of those in detail and adding to the list, but for now just observe: how many did you relate to? How many sparked a thought about a warning sign you’ve experienced? 

Let’s look at the physical dimension. This tends to be the most visible, and for good reason. All of these dimensions can and do manifest somehow in the body. Our bodies are full of information that can help us in each area. Unfortunately, we habitually tend to ignore that information through conditioning and even societal reward systems—pulling all-nighters in college or staying late at work to finish a project (or just to get a few more emails answered) is often seen as a badge of honor.

The real badge of honor would be all of us choosing to honor our wellbeing! 

When it’s too noisy in our minds or we’re moving at a breakneck pace throughout our days and nights, we can’t hear what our bodies are trying to tell us. Physically, falling asleep in meetings might be the equivalent of rolling the stop sign—an indication we need to prioritize quality sleep so we can be at our best during the day.

Getting sick on vacation is like tapping the brakes at the stop sign but only marginally slowing down. Because we go so fast and furious the rest of the time we miss those quiet whisperings of the body… then when we slow down, the body says, “whew! Now I can get a word in edgewise!”

A heart attack is like plowing through the stop sign at 40 miles an hour like it’s not even there. When enough signs have been ignored, the body pulls out the big guns and you end up in the hospital.

So how do we start listening to the signs?

Slowing down is critical. An all-out stop, even a brief one, helps a lot. It can be as simple as taking a slow, deep, conscious breath a few times a day. Starting to meditate. Keeping a pad of paper on your nightstand so you can write down some of those racing thoughts. Forgiving someone. Forgiving yourself.

Notice what works for you. Ask, “what is my body trying to tell me right now?” And then listen.

My Conclusion 

When I considered what stop sign I might be disregarding in my life, I concluded that I’d gotten really good at the pause, but not the stop. For me, the “stop sign” I heard from my body was low-level anxiety about not having enough time to play. I realized that for me that meant reading for fun, something I’ve always loved but rarely made time for in the past several years.

Feeling like I don’t have time to read for fun throws off my spiritual balance. Sometimes I get stuck while working on other priorities thinking, “gosh, I wish I had time to read today.”

The magical thing is that I have control over that. Giving myself permission is the key.

In the first month since rolling that stop sign, I read three books just for fun. And what did I discover? Reading for fun lights me up! It brings more joy and clarity to everything else I do. It induces a delicious sense of timelessness. A sense that I can play—really play—and not feel guilty about goofing off. It helps me believe that I have enough time to do everything I want to do. It’s a perfect way to enhance my spiritual wellness by bringing additional ease and freedom to my life.

Often I’ve found that one activity can touch multiple dimensions. For me, reading for fun enhances all the dimensions of my being. In addition to spiritual balance, it engages my intellectual curiosity and my emotional joy. I discuss the ideas and themes I’ve read with family and friends, enhancing my social connections. I read in beautiful surroundings in my home, reveling in my environment. Finally, I’m more motivated to exercise and more physically present knowing I don’t have to look away to that magical date in the future when I’ll get to read all my books.

What about you?

 Are you blowing through stop signs at 40 miles an hour?

Are you just tapping the breaks?

Are you rolling through?

Bring curiosity to your warning signs without judging them. They’re giving you valuable information that can help you more fully align with your own natural state of wellness. Remember that a stop sign on the road doesn’t mean you park the car and stay there. Rather, it’s a safety mechanism to keep you moving forward toward your goals while staying healthy and alive.

 Where in your life are you disregarding a stop sign?



Melissa Corley Carter, PhD, is a Certified Professional Coach who creates teambuilding experiences that help organizations improve cohesion, joy, performance, and ultimately profit through self and team awareness. She also helps motivated high achievers fulfill their greatest potential. She's a native Texan living in Virginia, and she enjoys barefoot running, hot yoga, reading, writing, and being present with family and friends. She loves to inspire and be inspired. Find out more about Melissa and mcSquared Energy Coaching at her website.

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This article is part of our series on the theme of Wellness.

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