React or Respond – which do you do most often?

Caring for children that have lived through trauma can push us to the very limits of patience and empathy at times. In the high-stress situations of dealing with very challenging behaviours, we can find ourselves in a persistently heightened state of “fight or flight”. Sadly the “driver” in these situations can often be our automatic pilot rather than our more considered and conscious selves.

We have an exercise for you to try that will help you quickly reach a calmer state, from which you can respond rather than react.

The SOBER Breathing Space Exercise

This exercise can be done almost anywhere, at any time because it is very brief and pretty simple. It can be used in the midst of a high-risk or stressful situation. It can help you step out of “automatic pilot”, becoming less reactive, and more aware and mindful in your response.

A way to help remember these steps is the acronym SOBER.

S – Stop.

When you are in a stressful or risky situation, or even just random times throughout the day, remember to stop and do this exercise. This is the first step in stepping out of automatic pilot.

O – Observe

Observe the sensations that are happening in your body. Also observe any emotions, moods or thoughts you are having. Just notice as much as you can about your experience.

B – Breath

Allow your attention to settle on your breath.

E – Expand

Expand your awareness to include the rest of your body, to your experience, and the situation, seeing if you can gently hold it all in consciousness.

R – Respond

Respond (versus react) mindfully, with an awareness of what is truly needed in the situation and how you can best take care of yourself.


We hope this helps. Take a look at our learning module exploring Mindfulness if you would like a more in-depth view of the topic.