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Do you sometimes yell, thump the table or slam doors? Perhaps you are overreacting.  Some people say it gives them a release and makes them feel better. The truth however is that it actually increases their stress levels, while those around them experience it as manipulative and bullying.

I don’t normally overreact like this, but sometimes I end up dwelling on something that has really distressed me, going over and over it in my mind. The more I think about it, the harder it is to let it go. It’s an internal overreaction in my mind, and while it’s not as visible as yelling and slamming doors, inside I am obsessing.

What triggers overreaction?

There is often faulty logic that underpins an overreaction, according to psychologist Albert Ellis, which is based on one or more of the following assumptions or expectations:

  • I should do well
  • You should treat me well
  • Life should be easy

When expectations like these are not fulfilled, overreacting is triggered emotions such as envy, rejection, resentment at criticism and loss of control, according to stress expert Judith Siegel. As an over-reaction builds, you increasingly narrow your focus, seeing things as either good or bad, and old unhappy memories from the past flood you with powerful negative feelings.

This toxic mix of faulty intellectual assumptions and powerful negative emotions can result in overreacting – and doing and saying things that you later regret. If that happens, your ability to cope, to keep stress positive and to be resilient is severely impaired.

How do you stop overreacting?

Let me tell you what helps me not overreact:

1.       I create distance between myself and the incident.

This allows me to calm down:

  • I tell myself that I’m not going to think about this now, and will deal with it later.
  • I do something which demands all my attention, which forces the incident into the back of my mind.
2.       I get perspective.
  • I create balance in my mind by saying to myself: “This upsetting thing is happening, and at the same time I’m really grateful for …”, and “This upsetting thing is happening, and also these good things are happening to me…”
  • I seek out other people and check in with what’s happening in their lives, which refocuses my attention.
  • I love running, which is a great stress reliever, although I need to have enough time to “run it all out”!
  • I discuss what has happened with a trusted friend or colleague. This helps me identify any emotional triggers and faulty logic.
3.       I change my focus

I use three powerful questions to shift my focus from the past of how bad, unjust, unfair and hurtful the incident has been, to the future. In so doing, I shift my emotions from fear and anger to be more optimistic and enthusiastic. The three questions which work wonders for me (more here) are:

  • How can I accept this?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • Is there an opportunity?
4.       I respond rather than react

I sometimes feel I should do something. If I don’t, I may be seen as weak or condoning what has happened. If so:

  • I try to take considered action. I try to not simply react, but rather to respond appropriately to the severity of the situation.
  • I ask myself what small step can I take right now?
  • In the end, overacting is a choice we make in dealing with a distressing situation.

 

If you would like to stop overreacting, the solution is to find other ways of responding.

How do you keep negative events in perspective, and keep yourself from over-reacting? I would love to hear from you!

References:

Judith Siegel,  Stop Overreacting: Effective Strategies for Calming Your Emotions New Harbinger, 2010.

Albert Ellis. Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: It Works for Me – It Can Work for You Prometheus Books, 2004

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