Stress: Do you React? Or Do you Respond?

Stress: Reacting vs RespondingWe all have routines in our daily lives that we perform in an automatic way.  Whether it be driving our car to work, having lunch at certain times and in certain ways, or the way we reach for the pen at our desk every day which has been sitting in the same pen holder.  In a sense we need these routines to keep our lives running along in as smooth a way as possible.  When our routine is altered it can greatly increase our stress level.  

Reacting Creates More Stress

Automatic routines can also be found in the way we communicate.  Some of our patterns of communication can be highly effective, as with our daily habits.  However, many of our problems in life can be traced back to patterns of communication which are just not working for us.   With a little conscious effort it is possible to see how we have set in place certain triggers which can create automatic reactions in our communication.  Often these reactions can have negative, and frequently destructive, consequences.  Reacting is an automatic response, and because we are unaware of how certain triggers elicit our reactions we are left powerless and unable to create the lives we want for ourselves.  These triggers are usually a deep part of our being and as such are difficult to recognise.

Responding Leads to Less Stress

If, on the other hand, we knew what things triggered such reactions in various situations and were able to realise when we were about to react, we could think to ourselves  “Hang on, what can I do about this?”.  Instead of being a slave to the circumstances and engaging in behaviour which may risk having destructive effects, we would be able to choose any number of responsible actions.  Our behaviour would then be a response as a opposed to a reaction.

The action of responding becomes an act of choice or freedom and consequently has power within it.

Thus changing our patterns of behaviour from ones of reaction to those of responding empowers us and enables us to foster harmonious relationships, and to create the life we really want for ourselves.   The key to achieving this change lies in becoming aware of the unconscious beliefs underlying our reactions.      In some cases it may only require stopping to take a breath and counting 5 seconds to rein in the reaction to a trigger before it manifests.  However,  often we are not aware of what the triggers are or even when we are reacting.

This is where coaching can be extremely powerful in helping us to uncover some of those deeper underlying belief systems which are so ingrained that we can’t see how they are repeatedly causing us to react instead of respond to situations.

Below is a little task taken from the ICA class which you can try out for yourself to gain more insight into how you deal with situations.  For each of the life events listed give an example of what your reaction might be and what would be the implicit judgement and underlying belief.  Then think of an alternative response instead of a reaction.

This week try this exercise:

  1. Think of 2 or 3 upcoming events/meetings/situations where there could be the possibility of you reacting and maybe getting annoyed or angry.
  2. Ahead of time try to detect what trigger may cause you to react.
  3. Be really honest with yourself and identify what the real feeling is, and what your underlying beliefs are about the situation.
  4. Now create an alternative perspective and let go of the old perspective that would cause you to react.
  5. Now you are better equipped to avoid the unpleasantness of reacting automatically!





2 responses to “Stress: Do you React? Or Do you Respond?”

  1. Panagiota

    This is very similar to CBT therapy. Thought—->Feeling—->Behavior. The example i use with clients is this:

    Imagine you tell two people the same thing: “You are lazy.”

    Person A, who is confident, feels productive, and has high self-efficacy, will hear this comment and brush it off. They choose not to react or respond because what they hear does not align with their internal story/dialogue.

    Person B, who has always been told they are lazy, maybe has lost their job or isn’t as productive as they would like, uses this comment as evidence of their internal story/dialogue and they react because it triggers that chord.

    It’s like in elementary school they give you a paragraph. The first sentence is the main idea. Then they ask you to find the sentence in the paragraph that does not belong. Well if your main idea is like Person A, then the lazy statement doesn’t fit in your paragraph so you toss it out. Person B uses the lazy statement as supporting detail to their paragraph, reinforcing the main idea.

    That’s why it’s so important when we are triggered and react that we look inside and see what the source of reaction was.

    1. Right, and a lot of our patterns of thinking are the result of our social-familial conditioning as we were growing up. Once we become aware of those underlying belief patterns we have the power to change it.

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