May 28, 2024

Emotional Reactivity: 3 Ways to Handle Stressful Situations in a Healthy Way.

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I’ve been around people who tend to overreact when they’re stressed or triggered.

When an unpleasant situation takes place, they lose control over their nervous system. Their heightened emotions take over, resulting in impulsive, destructive behavior.

The consequences are almost always disastrous. I’ve been a victim of this behavior, so I know the damage that it causes.

Being emotionally reactive hurts the person with an unregulated nervous system as well as the one on the receiving end. With time, emotional reactivity might end relationships, break apart families, and hurt friendships or careers.

Mentally, however, it can cause more damage than we realize. The person on the receiving end might experience fear or anxiety and battle with self-esteem issues. They might take things personally or think they’re at fault.

On the other hand, the person who is emotionally reactive might have to deal with shame, guilt, or regret. Although we may feel that emotionally reactive people are “horrible” people, the truth is they just don’t know how to regulate their strong emotions when they come out in a challenging situation.

I’ve also thought that those who are quick to negatively react like to bash others. With time and introspection, I’ve come to realize that emotionally reactive people are hurt people.

They have either watched their main caregivers being emotionally reactive themselves or have been through certain traumatic experiences where they might have felt dominated, silenced, threatened, or abused. They might also have grown up with low self-esteem, and so their heightened reactivity might temporarily provide them with the boost of confidence they lack.

Whatever the reason may be, the goal is to move from emotional reactivity to emotional regulation.

Instead of impulsively reacting, we learn how to intentionally respond.

Having been surrounded with folks who have extremely high emotional reactivity, I know it’s not easy to regulate a nervous system that is easily triggered. Our bodies need to unlearn certain automatic responses and replace them with more balanced ones.

Here are three ways we can do that:

1. Examine your triggers. We must pay close attention to our biased thought pattern when we are upset. What do we exactly think about when we become irritated? It might be difficult to separate the voice in our heads from who we truly are—or, in other words, from our spiritual essence. The goal here is to become observers rather than allies. So listen to your mind and what it has to say, but don’t believe what it tells you.

When a situation triggers us, our thought pattern could be something like “I hate when I feel used,” or “I don’t like it when someone doesn’t listen to me,” or “Why do things always have to go wrong,” or “Hearing lies makes me lose my mind,” and so on. That kind of thought pattern gives us hints about the trauma or wound at play. So if we find the trigger, we might as well find the solution.

2. Use mindfulness. Practices like yoga or meditation can teach us greatly about the importance of the breath and how it can ground us when we’re taken by strong emotions. However, I know some people with emotional reactivity who can’t sit for more than five minutes to meditate. In that case, it might be wiser to find other alternatives that could also put us in the present moment.

Things like watching a sunset, swimming, running, listening to the birds chirping in the morning, or building a campfire can all give us the benefits of meditation—observing our thoughts and allowing moments of silence to permeate our minds.

3. Set better limits. If we wish to decrease the intensity of our reactions, we need to make sure that we have set the right limits with those who trigger us. We can’t expect to keep our cool if our boundaries are constantly being violated. It could be a family member, a romantic partner, a friend, or a coworker. Make sure they know what your limits are and what you can and can’t tolerate.

Having said that, when you feel that someone is about to trigger you, focus on what you want from that person. Instead of reacting, asserting your needs or expectations might be more beneficial. And maybe, a brewing conflict could be avoided and replaced by a peaceful conversation that ends with a well regulated nervous system.


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