We’ve all felt these emotions. It’s normal to feel angry. It’s natural to react emotionally in certain situations. But when does anger cross the line into overreaction? How can you tell if your emotions are taking control and getting in the way of your relationships, professional goals, or daily life?
Sometimes overreacting is a way of communicating something important — but if your overreaction is consistently causing more harm than good, it’s time to find a new way to communicate and learn how to stop overreacting.
There are two different types of overreactions:
- Reactive overreaction: this is when your initial emotional response is too strong for the event or situation that caused it.
- Compulsive overreaction: this is when you feel like you can’t stop yourself from reacting, even though the reaction may not be appropriate or helpful.
If you’re struggling with one of these 2 things, you might be wondering how to stop overreacting. It can be helpful to start by identifying your triggers. These are the people and situations that cause you to overreact. Once you’ve identified these, consider whether your overreactions are helping or harming the situation at hand.
How to Understand Your Triggers
We have all experienced situations where we’ve overreacted. If you can recognize the causes of your buttons being pushed, you can learn to be more in control of yourself when your triggers are activated.
To figure out what triggers you here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you overreacting to something that has happened in the past?
- Do certain people or situations always seem to set you off?
- Do you overreact more than other people do in the same situation?
- What are your physical symptoms when you overreact (e.g. fast heart rate, shortness of breath)?
Once you’ve identified some potential triggers, it’s time to start reflecting on how your overreactions are impacting you and those around you.
How to take a Step Back and Assess the Situation
Because overreactions are often not as simple as they seem. It’s possible for your overreaction to be about something deeper than the immediate situation. Sometimes overreacting can be related to past trauma or even just a sign that you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or emotionally overwhelmed.
If your overreaction is related to past trauma, it can be a way of expressing what you were unable to express at the time. This can give overreacting an important function, even though it may not seem like that from the outside. For example, overreacting might be your body’s way of telling you something about yourself or your situation is not right.
If your overreaction is related to feeling overwhelmed, it can be helpful to remember that you’re not alone. Many people struggle with overwhelming emotions at some point in their lives. It’s important to understand and accept these feelings rather than trying to fight them or bottle them up.
Here are a few tips to take a step back and assess the situation:
- Stop and take some deep breaths. This will help you calm down and give yourself time to think.
- Talk to someone you trust about what’s going on. It can be helpful to get another perspective, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused.
- Remind yourself that overreacting is not always rational. Just because you’re feeling a strong emotion doesn’t mean it’s automatically valid or helpful.
- Think about what you would like to happen instead of overreacting. What’s the outcome you’d like to see? How can you get there?
- Ask yourself if overreacting is helpful in any way, or if it’s only making the situation worse.
- Consider how your overreactions are impacting your relationships with others.
- Think about whether you’re able to accomplish your professional goals when you’re overreacting.
- Analyze the physical and emotional consequences of overreacting.
How To Respond Instead of React
When you feel yourself starting to overreact, take a step back and think about what you’re overreacting to.
Ask yourself: am I overreacting to something that happened in the past? Is there a way for me to respond instead of react right now?
If you find that your overreactions are related to the past, try not to focus on how things could or should have been different. Instead, focus on how you can respond more effectively in the present moment.
If overreacting feels like a habit that’s hard to break, try these tips:
- Remind yourself over and over again that overreacting isn’t helping anyone, including yourself.
- Practice taking deep breaths when you feel an overreaction coming on.
- Identify positive statements you can say to yourself about the situation and/or about yourself.
- Visualize a more helpful response before reacting.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
Practicing self-compassion can be a helpful tool in managing overreactions.
While it can be tempting to beat yourself up after an emotional outburst, doing so will only make the situation worse. Instead of blaming and shaming yourself for overreacting, take time to reflect on how you can respond more effectively next time around.
Here are some helpful ways you can practice self-compassion:
- Treat yourself with kindness.
- Be mindful of how overreacting is affecting you and others in your life, but don’t let it define who you are as a person or what you’re capable of achieving.
- Take responsibility for your response but don’t take responsibility for how you feel.
- Remember that everyone makes mistakes, and overreactions are just a part of life.
- Seek professional help if you feel like you can’t manage your emotions alone.
Dedicate time each day to practicing self-compassion. This can be as simple as taking a few minutes to sit quietly and breathe deeply, or writing down some thoughts about overreacting that make you feel better about yourself (e.g., “I’m not perfect but I’m trying” or “Everyone makes mistakes sometimes”).
It can be helpful to remember that overreacting is not a reflection of who you are as a person. It’s something that can be managed and improved with practice. And above all, try to be patient with yourself – change doesn’t happen overnight. With time and effort, you can learn to manage your overreactions and start living a more productive, satisfying life.
Seek Professional Help to Learn How to Stop Overreacting
If overreacting is causing significant distress in your life or the lives of those around you, it’s important to seek professional help. A therapist can help you understand the underlying causes of your overreactions and provide tools to help you manage them.
Makin Wellness can help you understand and manage your overreactions. The counselors at Makin Wellness are here to help you live a more productive, satisfying life. Contact us at (412) 532-1249 or schedule an appointment at www.makinwellness.com.