Respond vs. React: How to Keep Your Cool in Times of Stress

Based on an Article by Melissa Eisler

Respond vs React: While these words may be similar in semantics, the difference between responding and reacting in stressful situations can be profound.

The difference between the two lies in a deep breathe, a pause, or a brief moment of mindful presence. That moment can mean the difference between sending the entire situation or relationship soaring to greater heights, or falling down a slippery slope.

Let’s take a closer look at what the phrase respond vs. react represents, and learn some tools to help you respond to life’s circumstances – even when you’re triggered by stress – in a way that serves your well-being and everyone around you.


Reactions are instinctual and stem from the subconscious mind. There is no filtering process when you react in a situation – you are running a auto-pilot. When you react, you do and say things without thinking first and do not consider the implications of what you say or do, you just act. Reactions are like a puppy who hasn’t been trained and bark on bark at every one he sees.


Responses are more thoughtful. When you respond, you first explore in your mind the possible outcomes of your reply before saying a word to others. You may weigh the pros and cons and consider what would be the best for yourself and others in that situation.

Take the Space When You’re Triggered

Adding that pause – that layer of observation, space, mindfulness, or whatever you want to call it – to the moment when you notice you’re triggered can mean the difference between strengthening or breaking a relationship, between a child, colleague, employee, or neighbor walking away feeling supported or disregarded. That space could mean a few deep breaths as you allow the reaction to fade and invite your balance to return. Or, it could mean taking a day or a week to cool down and reduce the charge of your emotional response. Every person and every situation will require a different way of doing this. Taking some space when you’re triggered gifts you the time to make a conscious decision on your next step.