What is stress?

During our lives we cannot avoid being faced with real and present dangers to our physical and/or emotional wellbeing. These dangers can be one off events (for instance a car crash, a divorce, failed job interview) or may be ongoing situations (for instance, COVID, being trapped in a toxic relationship, suffering with a chronic illness, experiencing excessive pressure at work). 

When faced with a real and present danger our inbuilt survival operating system (SOS) immediately activates our survival response. In nanoseconds our body adapts so that we have the energy and resources to escape the danger, or if we can't escape, to fight for our life. This is where the expression 'fight or flight' response comes from. 

You feel the changes in your body triggered by the survival response.  We call this feeling stress. It's a combination of physical body sensations and some level of fear. While we often think of stress negatively, the feeling is in fact a sign that you're still alive, albeit you may be physically injured or emotionally harmed. Had you succumbed to the danger, and died, you wouldn't be experiencing stress!  

You'll be familiar with the stress feeling - your muscles feel tense, your breathing is fast, your heart is beating rapidly, your body might shake or tremble. This feeling is meant to be short lived. Once the danger/threat has passed it usually takes between 20 and 60 minutes for your body to return to its pre-arousal state of being and for the stress feeling to dissipate. 

With your body primed for action thanks to the survival response, you react on autopilot rather than thinking carefully about the situation and choosing the most helpful behavioral response. For instance, you might automatically lash out or verbally abuse someone. You might say something you later regret. 

The S.O.B.E.R technique

One approach to reducing and managing short-term stress is the S.O.B.E.R. stress interruption technique. 

The goal of the technique is to reduce the stress you are feeling by intentionally interrupting your survival response (aka ‘stress response’). By regularly practicing the technique, you develop the ability to step out of autopilot reactions to stressors, take a mindful pause, and deliberately choose a more helpful response.

There are five steps in the S.O.B.E.R. Technique:

  1. Stop – whatever you are doing
  2. Observe – what is happening in your body and mind
  3. Breathe – pay attention to your breathing
  4. Expand – your awareness to your whole body and your surroundings
  5. Respond – with awareness rather than on autopilot

Let's take a closer look at each step.

Stop - whatever you're doing

When you feel your stress level spike, take a moment to stop. Whether you are sitting, standing, or walking, take a few seconds to stop where you are.

Observe - what is happening in your mind and body

Now turn your attention to what is happening in your body and mind. Notice the sensations happening in your body. Is there any tension? Where in your body can you feel it? What’s the feeling like? Are they unpleasant feelings? And what emotions are you experiencing right now? What thoughts are going through your mind? Rather than trying to push these thoughts and feelings away or shut them out, just observe them and acknowledge them.

Breathe - pay attention to your breathing

Now shift your attention to your breath. Focusing on your breath will help slow your thoughts and help your body relax. As you focus on your breath, inhale gently through your nose for a count of seven. When you reach seven, say the words ‘rest easy’ in your mind and then exhale for a count of eleven. Repeat this 5-10 times. 

As you breathe, notice the movements of your body with each breath. Notice the air coming in and out as you inhale and exhale slowly to the count of 7 and 11. Imagine 10% of the stress you're feeling leaving your body with each exhalation. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to your breath.

Expand - your awareness to your whole body and surroundings

Now extend your awareness to include the rest of your body and everything that is happening around you at this moment. What feelings are present? Do you feel any tension in your shoulders, neck, back, or face? Become aware of this tension, observe it, and allow yourself to let go of some of it, with each breath, feeling your muscles loosen and relax as you do so.

Now, expand your awareness of what is happening around you. What else do you notice? Imagine you are sitting in a movie theatre looking up at the screen observing the events as they unfold in front of you.

Respond - with awareness rather than on autopilot

Now that you have taken a moment stop, to observe, breathe, and assess the situation, you are in a better position to logically choose your response. Rather than, for instance automatically lashing out physically or verbally, you can choose what is the best way to respond? What behaviour will be most helpful right now?

Remember, with practice, you will become more familiar with these steps, and soon, using the S.O.B.E.R. technique in times of stress will become second nature.

Need some help with your stress or anxiety?

If you want help getting your stress under control, simply click the button below to secure a free 30 min Zoom or phone chat with me, where you can explore how I can help you destress and liberate yourself from anxiety. Alternatively give me a call or contact me today on 021 056 8389 or email tony@tycoaching.nz.

I’m on a mission to help as many people as possible enjoy lives free of unnecessary stress and anxiety. If you’d like my help, or you know someone who would benefit, call/text me today on 021 056 8389 or email tony@tycoaching.nz