Effective Strategies to Avoid Overreacting

By Amy Taylor on March 07, 2013

Many people have the bad habit of overreacting to stressful situations. If you easily get irritated and furious over simple stressors, if you feel like shouting on top of your lungs when you are angry with someone, or if you find yourself crying because of a negative remark by a friend or loved one when that remark doesn’t actually call for going teary-eyed, you must be overreacting!

Overreacting can significantly affect your self-image, your relationship with others, and most of all – your mental health. It is true that the ability to respond is hardwired in our brain. Being able to react is an innate skill that helps us cope with daily life’s stressors. But if your reaction to a situation is inappropriate, or too much, you are actually aggravating your stress levels and making things much more difficult!  

2 Types of Overreaction

Overreacting comes in two ways – the external and internal. External overreactions are the responses which others can see and easily identify, such as throwing things, slamming doors, saying abusive words to someone, yelling at people, and sometimes, hitting or physically hurting someone. Internal overreactions, on the other hand, are the emotional responses that remain deep within your emotional boundary. They are the reactions that may or may not be visible to other people. Examples are thinking about the situation over and over again, overanalysing a comment made by a colleague or a loved one, repeatedly asking yourself if what you said is right, etc.

How do you know you are overreacting?

Sometimes, when we are overwhelmed with emotions, it can be difficult to figure out whether we are overreacting or not. But there are a few signs to check out. For instance, if after blurting out your emotions, you tend to regret what you just said, you must have overreacted. If you tend to lash out at your loved ones, assume the worst about people and situations, or think of outcomes that are way beyond the reality, you are most probably overreacting.

How do you prevent yourself from overreacting?

Watch out for the warning signs. You can actually predict your likelihood to overreact on issues or situations just by paying attention to your body. If your neck and jaw are getting tensed, your heart starts beating fast, and your fingertips are getting cold, that means you are feeling highly stressed and anxious. And in a couple of seconds, you may get out of control. Once you’ve experienced any of these signs, tell yourself to slow down, breathe in and out, and divert your attention. These are simple tips that work best in dealing with stressful situations!

Remember, it is not always ‘about you’. Sometimes, people hurt our feelings unintentionally. Even though at a glance it may seem that the anger, frustration or criticism is directed to us, it isn’t always the case. It’s possible that the officemate who snapped at you has just gotten out of a long-term relationship. Or, maybe your boss ignored your proposal because he was not feeling well that time, and not because he didn’t like it. Jumping into negative conclusions can trigger you to overreact.

Learn how to manage stress. Stress can take a toll on your health and aggravate your emotions. You may not notice how stressed you are until that moment comes when you find yourself inappropriately responding to situations. Meditating, practising breathing exercises, and engaging in relaxing activities can significantly lower down your stress levels.

Take criticisms positively. Instead of lamenting on the negative remarks given to you by other people, take it as an opportunity to improve yourself. Ask yourself what you’ve learned from such feedback and how you can use it to your advantage.

Find a therapist to help you. Overreacting can be an indication of a more serious emotional or behavioural problem. It can be helpful to see a therapist to understand the underlying cause or causes of your overreactions.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that not all intense reactions are overreactions. There are instances when we need to react at a much higher degree for the purpose of protecting ourselves or other people. But certainly, after reading this article, you will be able to easily determine overreactions from the appropriate responses.


Dear Readers,

As a therapist, how can you help others who tend to donate too much emotion toward a given event which can lead to upset?

Share your comments below!

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