How to Stop Overreacting

If you’ve ever been in a situation where you had a reaction that was driven by your emotions then later looked back on it and thought “I overreacted there”, trust me, you’re not alone. This can be a problem if it becomes a repetitive pattern of behaviour. If you have had a one-off overreaction, it’s not too late to go back and correct it. It might feel uncomfortable to do so but explaining why you got to that point might be a way for you to reconcile how you ended up reacting in that way and help the other person understand why it got to that point and to help them to avoid it next time.

Before you go deep diving into that conversation you might want to spend some time reflecting and thinking, ‘Where did all of that reaction come from?!’ It may be that reaction was an accumulative effect from lots of different things building up over time.

What can I do if I’m overreacting more than I should? Something that I share with children and young people is the acronym TYTAT. Take Your Time and Think, even when something is happening that is going to demand some serious attention from you. It doesn’t necessarily mean that right now is the moment for you to give it that attention. Very often, when it’s the big stuff, the scary stuff, or the serious stuff, reflect before you react. Take your time to think. That thinking may take three days, it might be three minutes, it might just be three seconds. It just means giving yourself a moment to pause and asking yourself “What’s going to be the right way for me to deal with this situation?”, rather than just dealing with the situation. Take a moment to evaluate what needs to happen to help you to react in a more measured way with a reaction that is appropriate for the situation that you’re dealing with.

Gather further information about what is going on. Have you ever been in a situation where you have reacted, and then later found out some information that you were not privy to before? It’s a game-changer! ‘If only I’d known’ adds a whole other layer of complication to situations.

Using that time to pause and reflect may give you time to explore the facts before you start responding to them. That might turn out to be incredibly important. Don’t assume that you’ve got the full story. Always assume that there’s some piece of important information missing. Anger may be relevant and important in the situation that you’re dealing with but if you’re going to tap into your internal incredible Hulk, do it for a really good reason with all the facts in place. To make an intense situation less intense and stressful, flip it on its head and make it quite comedic. This sounds like it might be the toughest thing to do but if you can look at the situation, and find either something funny in it, you can kind of completely lighten the mood and you won’t just do that for the other people involved. You’ll also do it for yourself.

In doing that for others, all of that energy and anticipation and maybe even defensiveness that they’re about to throw at you will dissipate. It will completely evaporate. That will change the way that you feel too and will neutralise how you’re feeling.

Here’s an example for you:

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I used to be a nanny. I was with the children and helping them to become a little more independent in some of the tasks that we would do throughout the day. We were making lunch and the older child who was around 11years at the time wanted baked beans on toast for lunch. When it came to taking the baked beans out of the microwave. I’d said to him, “Make sure you grab a tea towel as you take the baked beans out of the microwave as the dish might be hot.” He decided that he had hands made of asbestos and did not need to take my advice and had a slightly delayed reaction before dropping that glass bowl and the whole thing shattered into a gazillion pieces with baked beans everywhere.

The first thing that came to me was “I told you to use a tea towel when you pick it up!” and to chuck all the blame in his direction. It did force me to take a moment to think because I was also then going into health and safety mode around the fact that there was glass everywhere.

In that moment of pausing and evaluating being aware that there was a dog who likes to rush in whenever any food drops on the floor, I had seconds to consider how to manage this situation.  I said something similar to, “Everybody stand very still! We’re drowning in a sea of baked beans.”

It instantly lightened the situation. It wasn’t any more dramatic than it needed to be and for me, it reminded me it’s not as bad as you think it is. It’s all fixable. Everything’s going to be okay, so I didn’t have to have a massive overreaction.

If I’d gone with my initial thought then it’s likely that my reaction and came out of my mouth would have been a lot more unkind and unreasonable. If we have a bad situation that’s happened, for example, a child has dropped a glass bowl of baked beans all over the marble floor, by saying, “We’re drowning in a sea of baked beans” has taken the scenario and blown it up in a way that creates perspective around the real situation. I’m not doing it to make it more dramatic. I’m doing it to create a perspective that this isn’t as big as it looks. We could literally be drowning in a sea of baked beans but guess what; we’re not.

This might be a strategy that can work for you, too. If it feels like the walls are falling in on you and all you can do is to have a big explosive reaction think of how much bigger it could be and it will shrink your level of ferociousness because you’ll realise, it’s maybe not as bad as your emotions interpreted it to be.

In summary:

Take your time and think to make sure that you give yourself adequate time to take a breath. Have perspective before you let words flow out of your mouth.

Ensure you have all the information needed to make an informed decision about how best to react to what has happened.

Make this scenario comedic, amusing, or funny to minimise the tension that’s going on outside of us. This will have a positive effect on how we want to react and respond. We can shrink the bad feelings for ourselves by lightening the mood around the whole thing before we go into the reaction that we want to have.

Get to perspective on the situation by thinking ‘what if it was even bigger?’ What if this was paced out to the maximum? How then does that shrink the situation that I’m dealing with, put it into better perspective, and help me to manage the reaction that I’m going to have?

By Gemma Bailey

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