How to respond instead of react to stressful situations

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If you let yourself get stressed out regularly, learn how to respond instead of react, to give yourself greater peace of mind…

By Ann Gomez

The next time you’re stuck in traffic, hands tensely wrapped around the steering wheel, stress levels rising, desperate to get where you’re going (and going nowhere fast), think of this strategy shared by Google CEO, Sundar Pichai,

“More than the problem,” he says, “is my reaction to the problem that creates chaos.”

Often, our reaction to a wrench in our day, like a traffic jam, can be more incendiary than the actual, or perceived, situation.

Knowing how to respond to a need rather than react to a trigger is the first step to navigating any sort of challenge we encounter, whether it’s a tough conversation or a traumatic event.

This fact is why we rely on the “Emergency Response Teams” and “first responders” — not “Emergency Reaction Teams.”

While on the surface, the words, respond and react, appear similar, there is an important distinction between them.

When we react, we are not typically modeling the best version of ourselves because reacting is a defense mechanism.

A reaction is emotional, instinctual, and not tied to reason. How we react to something may not always align with our values. A reaction is often driven by fear and even bias.

The more we react, the less empowered we are because we are giving away our power to other people or the situation at hand. Think of you how you may feel at your children’s sporting events and how easily others can draw you into a “blame the refs!” mentality.

Responding, on the other hand, is driven by conscious thought and based on our core values. When we respond instead of react, we tap into our self-awareness and emotional intelligence to consider the long-term effects of what we say and do.

Consider the words of Google CEO Sunda Pichai: “Reactions are always instinctive, whereas responses are always well thought of…to save a situation from going out of hand, to avoid cracks in a relationship, to avoid making decisions in anger, anxiety, stress, or hurry. This is a beautiful way to understand life. See the need and respond to the need.”

Granted, this type of measured response can be a challenge when we are,”in the moment.”

Here are three ways we can help ourselves respond the next time circumstances tempt us to react.


We all have “buttons” and it’s important to know our own triggers, so we can recognize when they are about to throw us off our game. Is it someone questioning your process for doing a task, or undermining your authority in a certain situation? Know what triggers you, so you have a built-in awareness and are ready to acknowledge the shift in mindset telling you trouble (whether real or perceived) is imminent.


We already know our brains can’t handle multitasking. So, it becomes all too easy for our brains to react, rather than respond, when we become singularly focused on a trigger. Instead of letting your temper flare and reacting immediately, take a four-second pause to see the outcome you want to get to. This will help you naturally respond to the need at hand, rather than the trigger itself.


Ultimately, you are responsible for your choices. And you can choose your responses too. Think of “responsibility” as “response-ability’. This differentiates us from animals who must react to life-or-death situations. Recognize you can convert threats into challenges and respond accordingly.

When we respond instead of react we enrich our relationships and experiences. This won’t help you avoid those traffic jams, but it may help you feel better the next time you find yourself going nowhere fast.

For more strategies you can use to set yourself up for success, see Ann’s latest book, Workday Warrior: A Proven Path to Reclaiming Your Time, published by Dundurn Press, 2022.

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