I've long needed to know how to avoid overreacting. I confess, I'm seriously prone to overreaction. Catch me at the wrong time and I'm overly sensitive and emotional. By themselves, those aren't necessarily bad traits. When mixed with a temper, a low stress threshold, and a tendency to get illogical, you've got a volatile combination. As everyone knows, overreacting never does anything good. It's better for you and everyone else involved if you're able to keep a cool, calm head. If you're born a hothead, that's difficult – but it can be learned. You just have to figure out how to avoid overreacting in stressful situations.
1. Write down Your Feelings
One of the best ways to learn how to avoid overreacting is to get in touch with your feelings – or even vent them. Rather than getting in touch with them right in your perceived antagonist's face or venting them in the moment, try writing them down instead. Write down your feelings, what caused them, and who triggered them. If you're dealing with someone who frequently makes you overreact, write them a letter. Don't mail it – initially, it might be full of vitriol. However, in time, you can go back and come up with some talking points if you need to. Most importantly, now you have a way to track patterns in your behavior.
2. Pinpoint Your Triggers
That will actually let you pinpoint your triggers. When do you overreact the most? Does it happen when your partner talks to you about money? When your mother compares you to a sibling? When your boss questions you about your position or skills? Once you know your triggers, you can start to figure out why you react the way you do. You can also begin understanding why those are hot spots for you. Once you've done that, you'll be able to change or even train your behavior.
3. Zip Your Lips
Although it's hard to stop talking in the heat of the moment, it's the best thing you can do. Even if you want to defend yourself or strike back, sometimes you just have to shut up. It's difficult but not impossible; it just requires a lot of will power. However, if you go off half cocked and start ranting about exactly how you feel, how you've been slighted, and how the person talking to you has tons of their own faults, you'll just make the situation worse.
4. Breathe Deep (and Count to 10)
If you can't simply keep still and be quiet, then at least take a moment. Breathing deeply actually does help you calm down, so give yourself time to take several deep breaths, get the oxygen going to your brain, and help your adrenaline settle. Give yourself a ten count as well. That way, you really have to think before you speak – and overreact to the situation.
5. Define Your Feelings
Whether you write it down in a journal or simply reflect, you have to define your feelings. What's causing you to overreact? How do you feel in the moment? Do you feel defensive when your partner discusses money with you, as if you aren't pulling your weight? Do you feel like you're not good enough when you think your parents are comparing you to your sibling? Do you feel slighted or insecure when your boss asks you questions? Only when you know how you feel can you start to change your immediate reactions.
6. Use Criticism to Your Advantage
Many times, you're probably not being criticized; you may simply feel that way. Whether someone really is criticizing you or you simply perceive the slight, use it. Look deep within yourself, be honest, and see if there's room for improvement. Maybe you don't manage money well; maybe you aren't being as efficient as you could be at work. Either way, you can always improve – for your sake, to make yourself feel better.
7. Put It in Perspective
You have to keep things in perspective, though. While you might think your partner is accusing you of mismanaging money, he or she might simply be engaging in a discussion or confessing worries. Your boss maybe simply be interested in your progress on a new project or task. And would your mom really try to make you feel bad? Sometimes the people who routinely inspire you to overreact aren't insulting you or putting you down at all. They might not know how they come across. So step back and think about whether or not these people would really, honestly try to hurt or anger you.
8. Learn from the Experience
You're still going to overreact and get upset. You can't change overnight. However, you can learn from every experience and every backslide. When you slip, take the time to think about why you're overreacting, to dissect your feelings, and to ponder whether or not they're completely justified.
Learning how to stay calm and avoid overreacting requires practice. I suggest you “practice” on your partner or best friend, because you know they love you even when you overreact, plus they can pinpoint your faults, flaws, and overreactions, especially in arguments. Do you have a tendency to overreact? Let me know what you do to stay calm and collected.