How to Stop Yourself in the Middle of an Overreaction

By Kate Harveston

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

Tensions are high right now as the world finds itself in the grip of a global pandemic. Normal ways of life are being uprooted, and it’s understandable that people are feeling a little on-edge.

Perhaps it’s your child’s first week of online school, and you receive an email from their teacher expressing concern that your child is skipping out on classes. You see red, and if steam could pour from a human’s ears cartoon-style, you’d be a teakettle ready to blow. You’re about to give junior a harsh talking to about the value of learning responsibility.

Slow down. Words can sting, so before you utter something that can crush your child’s delicate spirit, get a handle on your emotions. Now, more than ever, we need to learn how to handle our emotions and stop ourselves from stressing out, overreacting and flying off the handle at those we love — especially if you might be in close quarters with your family or roommates indefinitely!

You can learn to stop yourself in the middle of an overreaction by practicing a few simple tips.

1. Slowly Count to 10 

People in western society tend to listen to reply instead of for understanding. This haste for response often results in misinterpretations and hurt feelings. Before you beat someone over the head with the sarcasm stick, especially in these tense times, it’s crucial to count to 10 first. Reflect on how your words might make the other person feel. Remember, too, that choosing not to respond is an answer in itself — one that can sometimes help you avoid looking like a jerk!

2. Learn Your Triggers 

A trigger is a sensory reminder of a past trauma that arouses a powerful emotional reaction. For example, if you recently survived a period of severe economic hardship due to a lost job, you could fly into panic mode if your new boss says they need to have a talk with you. It’s crucial to know what sets you off because this knowledge empowers you to take a step back and reflect on why you react so viscerally to certain situations.

Once you identify your triggers, you can stop and ask yourself, “Am I reacting to what’s happening now, or something that occurred six months ago?” Maybe your boss merely wants to check in with you to see how you’re adapting to your new duties. This question can help you respond more appropriately to the present circumstances.

3. Try to Empathize

Your spouse finished work, plopped down on the couch, and cracked a beer again — leaving you to watch the kids and cook dinner. You’re ready to scream, “Why do I even bother? You’re never going to change” and storm out the door permanently.

It’s natural to doubt someone who has made repeated promises to change but continues to relapse into negative behavioral patterns. However, think about all the New Year’s resolutions you lost your resolve to complete before the groundhog even saw its shadow. Change takes time and trying to uplift a family member who is struggling typically works more effectively than condemning them.

4. Simply Walk Away

Sometimes, you need to ask yourself if you’d rather be right and lose a relationship or let it go to diffuse a tense situation. There’s a substantial difference between an animated discussion and a heated argument. To be the bigger person, make your point and then leave with your reputation — and your sanity — intact. If you value your friendship with the other party, it’s OK to agree to disagree.

To avoid looking like you’re just giving someone the silent treatment though, try to reframe the conversation in a positive way — you can calmly recognize your differences without making those differences feel like deal breakers in a relationship. Living in close quarters with others can be tough enough — you don’t want to harbor resentment toward the people with whom you share a home.

5. Remember to Breathe 

When you get tense, your respiration rate speeds up. Inhalation activates the sympathetic nervous system, the part that prepares your body for fight-or-flight. Exhalation, alternatively, activates the parasympathetic nervous system, the one that calms you down after exertion.

When you feel your inner pot about to boil over, practice 2-to-1 breathing — exhaling for twice as long as you inhale. Take several slow, deep breaths if you need to, emphasizing letting it all go each time. You can also try the similar practice of meditating. If you’ve new to meditation and intentional breathing, you can try using an app to get started. These types of mindful exercises signal to your nervous system that it’s time to calm down.

6. Play the Waiting Game 

Before you respond to any tense situation, ask yourself, “Do I need to handle this right now?” Unless someone lost a limb, you probably could take time to sleep on the situation. If circumstances don’t warrant an immediate intervention, then resolve to sleep on things for 24 hours. You’ll make wiser decisions when you give yourself time to calm down and reflect.

7. Consider the Consequences 

At your annual review, your boss passes you over for a promotion you worked your tail feathers off to earn. You’re ready to tell them to take their job and shove it. Hold on for a moment — you love your career. What will your resume look like if you abandon ship every time something doesn’t go your way?

Instead of flying off the handle and turning in your resignation, schedule a heart-to-heart. Inform your supervisor what you hope to accomplish, and ask for direction on how to achieve that goal. If you do the work and continue to get ignored, that’s one thing. Chances are, however, an honest effort to improve will win you that coveted corner office eventually.

Don’t Sweat the Small Things

Overreacting to the little things can damage relationships and create undue stress. However, by following a few simple tips, you can stop yourself before you do or say something you’ll later regret.

About the author:

Kate is a health and wellness journalist with an interest in holistic healing and all-natural living. If you enjoy her work, you can visit her blog, So Well, So Woman.

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