This Simple Approach Will Help You Cope With Any Stressful Situation


A couple of months ago, I arrived at yet another impasse on my path to recovery from my decades-long eating disorder. Everything seemed impossible. Hope was not even a legitimate concept in my universe. I’d moved across country from Seattle, WA to my parents’ home in Frederick, MD because I was unable to hold everything together on my own. I’d just turned 38;  having to admit that I needed my parents was humbling, to say the least. By the time I’d moved in and found a therapist, I was exhausted and truly disenchanted with life.

For the sake of conversation, let’s call her ‘Mary.’ Sitting on Mary’s couch, I tried to explain that I saw no point in my being there, here, on earth. I was not suicidal, but not not suicidal. And I apologized; I knew I wasn’t being helpful in her helping me. I just don’t see the point of this, I said again, I don’t see the point of any of this.Why bother?

She looked at me with her kind eyes, and asked, “Well, why not?” “What do you mean?” I was challenged. We were still getting to know each other and had not yet developed the fluid communication I’d had with my Seattle therapist. “Why not?” Mary repeated gently “If you can’t see the point, then you have nothing to lose. So why not try to be gentle with yourself, right now?”

She said she understood that I was overwhelmed, having been through residential and partial hospitalization programs. I’d been introduced to all the new and proven tools and techniques. Sometimes I felt like the sheer number of tools paralyzed me. I told Mary that when I was in crisis mode, I had trouble accessing any one strategy. “Well you’re here now,” she noted. “I have one simple exercise in mind that you might like. I often use it myself.”  

I had nothing to lose, after all. And I could practice it anywhere, anytime – at a job interview, at the dinner table, or quietly relaxing in my bedroom. The acronym is S.O.B.E.R, and it’s so fundamental, she explained, you don’t need to remember the order or what the letters stand for in order to get some help from it.

  • Stop
  • Observe
  • Breathe   
  • Expand
  • Respond

Like with meditation or other mindfulness techniques, you notice that your thoughts have wandered, and “stop” to acknowledge this. Next, you observe sensations in your body. Do a quick body scan or focus your attention on one part of your body. Then, notice your breath for a few moments, just staying open to whatever comes up. Expand your awareness to include the entire body, sounds or scents in your surroundings. Ask yourself how you’re feeling, right now in this moment. Finally, respond, rather than react, to your experience. What do you need to do to give yourself more ease, right now? Respond from your values. She emphasized that even if I forgot all of the steps, I could return to my most basic value of doing no harm.

I have no glowing report to share about my progress, but I can say that SOBER has become my favorite tool yet. I’ve used it at the dinner table when the discussion drifted to topics I find triggering. I was able to ground myself, feel my feelings, breathe through the discomfort and respond with gentleness. It’s nothing fancy, but I feel like I’m doing something kind for myself. When I’ve used SOBER, I’m carving out a tiny moment in time where everything is ‘OK.’

Image Source: Flickr

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