Do you RESPOND or REACT?
When a stressful situation happens and you feel overwhelmed, it’s easy to find yourself saying or doing things that you regret. It’s easy to forget that all your behaviors are choices you’re making and instead project blame onto someone or something else. You have the choice to REACT to your thoughts and emotions about situation, or you have the choice to RESPOND to the actual situation. Reacting is reflexive. When we feel uncomfortable, we want to get rid of that discomfort. While it’s normal to experience that urge, it’s not helpful to follow it. Reacting usually does not resolve a problem, and often makes it worse. Examples of reacting: yelling, sarcasm, blaming, stonewalling, criticizing, etc. Responding requires a pause in order to make an informed decision. It takes noticing that you are uncomfortable and choosing a helpful response for the situation. There are many tips for learning to respond instead of react. However, the most important step is to first be able to recognize when you are reacting. Being mindful of your body, your thoughts, your voice, and your words will help you to develop awareness. Once you have that awareness, then you can work on changing your behavior. (I will give tips for how to respond instead of react in September.) How to become aware of reacting: 1. Pay attention to your body: ● Does your chest or stomach, shoulders, fists, or jaw tighten? ● Does your breathing becoming faster or more shallow? ● Do you notice any other uncomfortable changes in your body? ● If your body is experiencing discomfort, it’s likely you’re reacting to your emotions rather than responding to the situation. 2. Pay attention to your thoughts: ● Are you thinking “you” statements or “I” statements? ● Are you thinking of what others should do or what you can control? ● Are you focusing on the past wrongs or on your future choices? ● If your thoughts are focused on others or the past, you’re probably reacting to your emotions rather than responding to the situation. 3. Pay attention to your voice: ● Is your volume aggressive or calm? ● Is your tone sarcastic and condescending or mild and welcoming? ● If your voice is aggressive, such as yelling, or passive-aggressive, such as a sarcastic tone, then you’re reacting to your emotions and not responding to the situation. 4. Pay attention to your words: ● Do your sentences begin with “you” instead of “I”? ● Are you defending yourself or trying to understand the other person? ● Did you speak immediately or pause for a moment first? ● Are your words shutting down communication or encouraging discussion? ● If your words are attacking, defensive, or rushed, then you’re probably reacting to your emotions rather than responding to the situation. Many people struggle with developing that awareness on their own. Counseling can provide that guidance and accountability needed by most people to make changes. In addition, workshops on Emotion Coaching can be very helpful in learning and implementing the skills to help you model responding rather than reacting.