How To Stop Overreacting To Life

Posted by on Apr 13, 2012 in Personal Development, Stress Management, Work-life Balance | 26 comments

I admit it! I’m an Over-reactor. Sometimes I take things personally. Sometimes I let my feelings determine my state of mind. I allow myself to believe that whatever just happened is erroneous, incorrect, offensive, or otherwise REALLY BIG DEAL!

Sometimes I experience positive overreaction. I make people, places, and things outside myself bigger and better than myself.

I think this was the “BEST DAY EVER!!!!! Nothing will ever top this!” and inevitably this sets me up for failure and disappointment.

The problem with overreacting is I let go of mindfulness, balance and even happiness every time I react instead of responding to life. My emotional reaction looms larger-than-life and I temporarily loose sight of my purpose and intentions.  I get swept up in the moment and neglect what’s important to me- living a great life every day not just when “stuff” happens.

Life has been a great learning experience and along the way I’ve learned some great tools to refocus my attention on what matters to me when I find myself overreacting.

Notice how you feel

When I am reacting, instead of responding, I am usually experiencing intense emotional and physical sensations. The muscles in my neck and shoulders tense or I experience an empty feeling in my stomach. I feel stressed, anxious, angry, or scared. Even my positive overreaction can cause a loss of appetite or feelings of anxiety.

I don’t have to believe everything I feel. Feelings are data I can use to inform my experience but I don’t have to make my emotions my truth.

Empower yourself

Usually when I am overreacting I perceive that I am a victim to the experience. I allow myself to believe I am at the mercy of others. This is only true when I choose to give up my power to another person or experience.

Instead, I can choose to empower myself. I can take responsibility for my thoughts, feelings, and behavior. I’m not helpless and I always have a choice about what to do next.

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Take care of yourself

Caught up in the moment, I might forget to breathe deeply, stay hydrated, eat when I’m hungry, and get a good night’s sleep. I let my reaction to the situation grow bigger and bigger as I turn it over in my mind and I forget to take care of my basic needs.

When I’m Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired it’s a sign to HALT and take care of me.

Put it in perspective

When I’m overreacting, my reaction is disproportionate to the problem at hand. I am far more likely to escalate a conflict when I exaggerate the situation.

Instead I can ask myself, “how important is it?” Will this experience drastically change my life? Will I remember this next month? How about next year? Most of the time I’m feeling stress over something, or someone, that really isn’t important to my purpose and intentions. I can also ask myself, “is this worth giving up my serenity?”

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Check your expectations

I’ve heard it said that expectations are premeditated resentments. I often have expectations of people and situations based on what I want to happen, not what is likely to happen or even what I have prepared for. My expectations often don’t take into consideration what other people want or how they will be affected.

When I assess my expectations I often find my expectations are self-centered desires for life work out the way I wanted. When I recognize this, I find it easier to consider other considerations and a different outcome.

Let it go

When overreacting to life I hold on to my reaction as if my life depends on it. I allow the experience of a single moment to be bigger than my entire life experience.

I can choose to let it go. It’s not always easy, and sometimes I let it go and pick it up again- that’s okay, I can let it go over and over as many times as I need.

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Managing my overreactions helps me live a balanced, peaceful, and satisfying life. I stop bouncing from high to low and back to high again.

When I respond instead of react I am able to respond with dignity and grace. I maintain a positive reputation and I enjoy life more.

I have learned I have limited control over life. No matter how hard I try, I can’t control the outcome; I can only control my input. I decide what I give in life, and what I do with what I’m given.

I love your comments! What other ways to do stop overreacting to life?

Image courtesy of lednichenkoolga.

26 Comments

  1. I am 60 years old and never knew that I was overreacting at all. So many relationships in my life have fallen apart. The worst was my husband of 28 years and partner for 31 walk out on myself and my daughter. He stayed in the home for three years all the time going out and having a good time while living a separate life until he found a place of his own. He was so abusive to me for many years. Screaming at me, arguing over nothing, humiliated me and being mean to me was almost daily. I had not had a vacation since 1999 and sometimes worked 190 to 200 days straight without a day off. I would skip meals, worry and loose sleep daily over my job and because of the stress in my marriage. I never realized that I was over reacting until he was walking out the door he turned around and said “I have had enough of your over reacting to everything”. I was taken totally by surprised until I step back and watch myself in the months to follow. Over reacting was an understatement. I totally fell apart when he left. My family was my life.
    But in the months to come I became aware of my reactions to things. I never realized that my behavior was not like other peoples. I never knew that I needed to change my behavior but I certainly do. I do not know how to catch myself quick enough to change before my impulsivity happens. I cost me my marriage and a person I love deeply. It has caused my daughter pain. What does someone do that does not know where to start?

    • Your experiences sound ship much like my own, except I know I have the tendency to over-react unfortunately most of the time I start over reacting and get c lost in my own ridiculousness that I don’t stop or control it untill after the damage is done. Then I am stressed out more for acting ago foolish and mean. I have been saying positive affirmations and got on anti anxiety meds but I’m still having many issues. I hope something I said was helpful.
      Best wishes
      Christina

      • Hi Christina,

        I want to start by apologizing for my much delayed reply to your comment. Unfortunately your comment was caught in my spam filter and I didn’t see it until today.

        I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with anxiety at this level. I hope you’ve found some relief since you left this comment! Positive affirmations can be very helpful.

        I also benefited from exercises to stay present. For example, when I am engaged in a physical activity I take note of each of my senses. What do I see? What do I smell? What textures can I touch? I fully engage all my senses in the current activity and this helps alleviate some of the anxiety.

        Be well,

        Chrysta

  2. I have overreacted all my life. Anyone says something slightly negative at work means I am going to get fired. I have a cough, or a headache or a stomach ache, it means that this is a symptom of cancer. Going to an annual physical means I am going to be diagnosed with something terrible – like cancer. If my husband is late coming home and doesn’t pick up his cell phone – I think he is in an accident – and I have images of going to the hospital and a funeral. My imagination is so extreme. But as I type this, it sounds so silly, but when the thoughts are in my head, they feel so real, and I get so caught up with them. I feel like a helpless little kid and I just somehow want to run away and hide from the situation. I am 42, and I have lived most of my life like this. And it has exhausted me, and taken so many of my joys away. With these over reactions, I have become a person who is always looking and analyzing things to find out what possibly could be or go wrong and then if anything is possible I play out a terrible scenario in my head. Then I spend a huge deal of time trying to overcome it and prove that it was wrong – rather than just labeling it as my overreaction.

  3. Wow, this really helped me soo mush! Thank you so much. I can’t thank you enough. You’re amazing. <3

  4. I just discovered this blog, I am an over reactor who needs help in managing this behavior.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sandra!

      Being an overreactor is hard- it makes life hard, doesn’t it? I know it did for me. I’m grateful I learned how to redirect my overreaction so I don’t cause myself more suffering. I hope it works out that way for you, too.

      Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  5. Thanks for this blog, I was starting to think I was the only one with these kind of emotions and feelings. It’s great to know that there are others out there struggling with the same issues I am. I have recently started to address my overreacting by going to therapy since I’ve had a series of four relationships come to a devastating and dramatic end over the past 10 years. I have lost some wonderful people from my life because of overreacting. I regret many of the decisions I made and often wish that I could apologize to those that I’ve hurt.

    I find that I still overreact to issues even when I’m actively trying not to and that causes me to feel very defeated in this process. I like how you said earlier that you prided yourself for progress and not for perfection. I’m starting to realize that this is gonna be a long process for me but am excited by the prospects of changing this behavior and hopefully changing the outcome of many life situations. Thanks again for this blog.

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, AS!

      I appreciate what you’ve been through as I’ve been there, too. Devastating and dramatic describes much of my life- thankfully with lots of practice I’ve been able to use more positive words to describe my life in the past 8 years or so.

      I can also relate to pushing people away by overreacting. My intense emotions were just too much for some, and those people stopped spending time with me because it was too exhausting to be in relationships me- hell, it was pretty damn exhausting to BE me. 😉

      Keep focusing on progress, not perfection, and you’ll find some peace in your life.

      Thanks for stopping by! Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

      • This is exactly what I’m feeling and going through. I have the husband of my dreams and a wonderful family. However, I’m an overreactor and need some serious help and guidance before I push them all away.

  6. Hey Chrysta, I am an overreactor too, and i recently discovered this about myself. i always thought my analyzing thought process was me being really smart, but now i see its overreacting. im hurting the people i love and i want it to stop. but at the same time, i care for people so very much and am very compassionate, and dont want to lose those traits of course. honestly, i’ve been told that my “helping” other people is just smothering them, and i feel bad for that. My girlfriend broke up with me a few months ago, and we didnt talk for most of that time. recently, i saw her at a mutual event, and talked with her because i missed her. the whole time we were apart, i was trying to think why she possibly decided to break up with me for the longest time, and that weekend i saw her and confronted her, i said some things to try and cover my tracks and thinking process. its weird because i didnt say everything i wanted to say, but i felt like it didnt matter. she and i are talking again, and she says she is going through a hard time right now, and i have to accept that maybe i wont be the one to save her. this scared me, becuase we went out for a year and a half (long time for someone who is 17). i dont know what overreacting, underreacting, and reacting just right is anymore, or how i should think, or what i should do. i just wanna help this girl, but she says i smother her. and i just want to be with her again, yet i feel like she doesnt love me anymore, and never will. What do i do? or think? Please i need so much help right now and am searching the internet and asking friends for help, even my parents, but i cant find my peace

    • Thanks for your comment, Andrew. That sounds like a rough situation and I’m sorry to hear you’re in the middle of it.

      When I don’t know what to do the first thing I do is nothing. Sometimes I just need a little time and space to clear my head.

      The next thing I do is take care of myself. Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? When I’m facing a difficult situation I can’t make any good decisions until I take care of myself.

      Sometimes the next step for me is letting go. Letting go of my assumptions, my judgements, my resentments, my anger, and mostly my fear. Fear leads me to make poor decisions more than any other emotion.

      I might try letting go by writing down my feelings about the situation in a note and putting that note in a safe place. That way I can still have that feeling but I don’t have to carry it around with me all day.

      After I let go of the emotions and thoughts that hold me back I can simply do the next right thing. Not the thing that I think will get me what I want. Not the thing that I think I “should” do. Just simply the next right thing. The next right thing might be going to work, it might be being honest about my feelings, it might be ending a relationship that isn’t working out for me- it can be any number of options depending on the situation.

      I hope that helps. Take care of yourself!

      Chrysta

  7. I have struggled with over reacting my entire life and I’ve started to recognise that I only act on these feelings when I’m left on my own to contemplate and think to hard about small insignificant things.

    After I have an episode, I feel so awful, I hurt the people who i love by crying and becoming so emotional i say things i dont mean. I dont feel like sorry can really exept me from the things i say and do because i feel like its not me whos angry. It feels like my brain has gone into override and the emotions cloud me from being able to think clearly at all ! So far the consequences of these episodes have been upsetting but minimal but im so afraid that if i dont find a way of bringing them under control then i am going to end up loosing some very important people in my life.

    This website is very helpful and inspiring

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Hannah!

      I’m right there with you- I tend to get more emotional when I am on my own and spend too much time thinking. It’s not even thinking, really, it borders on obsessing. What really helps me is to stop and THINK about my words and actions- are they Thoughful, Honest, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind? If they are then I know I’m on the right track, if they aren’t then I can use that information to make a different choice.

      Good luck to you on your journey! Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  8. I have been an over reactor since I was a child and I’m 32 next week,
    I like many of the others that have comented here have a big heart and get great enjoyment out of helping people..
    The fact that I let my emotions dictate my reactions has and still is holding me back in my life,
    Like you said its a rolercoster of emotion the highs are so high and the lows feel like you just want it all to end,
    I’m thankfull to have so really beautiful people in my life that understand that when I’m Over reacting this is not who I really am.. But I don’t want to push anyone else away from my life.
    My mother and father split when I was 8 and that is where quite a lot of the problems come from.
    I have a great aptitude for seeing how things are done and figuring out how to replicate them but I haven’t yet been able to do this emotionally…
    I really need to get a handle on how I react before I consumes me totally.
    When I over react I end up feeling so guilty about my behaviour shortly afterwards and then end up feeling even worse than before.
    I understand that anger is healthy but the way I choose to express it is most defiantly not.
    I am not the physical type, My defence mechanism is vocal but haven’t found a way to stop it.

    Thanks Mike W

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Mike!

      You sound like a very intelligent person and I believe you’re on the right track to changing your behavior so that you can live a more enjoyable and peaceful life. Changing behaviors is one of the hardest things to do but it is possible with a lot of practice.

      When I want to change my behavior sometimes I find it helpful to brainstorm all the possible ways I might respond to a situation- from the absolutely ridiculous to the more reasonable responses. Once I have my list written out I can choose a response that I know I’m going to feel good about later. :)

      Good luck to you in your journey! Thanks for stopping by! Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  9. I hope you get this message Chrysta. I know it has been a couple of months since the last comment. I have been a huge over reactor now for all of my adult life. I’m trying to figure out if this came from having divorced parents who hated each other when I was a child or if it’s come from being hurt in past relationships or both. I constantly feel like I have a chip on my shoulder and I’m waiting for someone or something to come knock it off. I take things to personally and am a very emotional guy, but I also have a big heart and lots of compassion for others. Unfortunately my over reacting has just recently caused me major heart break and it was all over a misunderstanding and my over reacting. I met a girl about 3 weeks ago and really got feelings for her even though I didn’t know her that well. Her husband had passed away only a few months ago and that made me very hesitant to even talk to her, but she was very nice and very attractive and I thought who knows it may just be a good thing. We talked many times on the phone. Sometimes we would talk for 2-3 hours on the phone, which I have not done for many, many years. I forgot to mention that she also has 5 kids and most men would not want anything to do with that, but I feel that if she is the one then I could easily except them. We were supposed to go out on a Friday night so I called her from outside at work on my cell phone. She did not answer and sent me a text message saying she was not ready to go out yet and that she hoped I was not mad. I immediately started thinking that she wasn’t ready to date or see me. I started to panic and tried calling her but her child answered the phone and said she wasn’t there and I started to think she had her child answer the phone because she didn’t want to talk to me. I went back in to work and got off a few hours later totally deflated and angry. I texted her immediately and told her that I couldn’t believe that she had her child answer the phone and that she could at least be an adult about it and tell me if she did not want to talk to me anymore. An hour later I texted her again and told her that I couldn’t believe she was ignoring me and that I thought she was a better person than that and I told her goodbye. Well an hour later I received 5 texts. 2 from her at 9:00pm when I was still working and feeling like she never wanted to talk to me again. She asked where I wanted to go out and that she was trying to find a sitter. I immediately started crying because I had already sent my texts telling her goodbye and did not know that it was all a big misunderstanding. She has not replied to my texts or calls in 5 days now. I am heartbroken and cannot sleep or eat. I ruined everything by overreacting and I have not met a girl I like this much in many, many years. The worst part is that she has not responded at all since I first texted her after I got off work that night. I’m not getting any closure and it is eating me up inside. I hate my over reacting.

    • Thanks for your comment, Geoff, and thanks for sharing your story. Overreacting is a hard habit to break. I encourage you to be gentle and caring with yourself and do your best not to overreact to the situation you now find yourself in.

      In my life, even when the “worst” thing happened (divorce, job loss, etc.), I eventually found my way and enjoyed peace and happiness again with time. Even if your relationship is damaged because of your overreaction, you will find peace and happiness again, too.

      A few simple and effective behaviors that have helped me in the past include repeating these mantras to myself as often as necessary, sometimes 10 or more times a day:

      A positive outcome is just as likely as a negative outcome.

      Feelings aren’t facts. Just because it feels like a crisis doesn’t mean I have to create a crisis.

      How important is it, really?

      How can I take care of myself in this moment?

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope this reply finds you in a more peaceful place. If not, please do something caring for you today.

      Chrysta

  10. I used to be a guy who overreacted at everything. Even a tiny hint of mimic on my face would blow my heat up and the next moment I would be conducting a heated quarrel with people.

    I started meditating. Around a month later, I found many things changing. I reacted differently to usual heats. Maybe, after meditating, people just vibrate at a frequency where they simply don’t want to mess around with things. They carve for bliss..

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Jaky, and thank you for sharing your personal experience and how meditation has improved your life.

      I, too, have found that when I maintain my inner calm, other people are less likely to be reactive towards me and I have a more peaceful life overall. Learning to manage emotional balance within me has improved my life in so many ways. Of course I’m still learning maintain balance, and I always will be.

      I’m so grateful for your comment- thank you!

      Have a great day!

      Chrysta

  11. Your very first piece of advice is one I struggle with, notice how you feel. Too often I am already thinking about what’s next to notice how I am feeling right now. One of my major goals this year is to learn to be more intentional, to live in each moment fully. I am getting better at it but I still tend to let my mind wander around too much. That’s the ADHD, but I can learn to put some control on it. And practice is making me better at it.

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Lynda!

      Learning to notice how I feel was a struggle for me, too. Sometimes I still struggle with it. When I’m not being mindful of the moment I am thinking about what’s next. I go into survival mode and instead of stopping to assess the situation I charge ahead. The problem is this behavior didn’t help me make good decisions because I wasn’t really aware of the actual problem! Is it like that for you, too?

      Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  12. I know I keep saying this but Chrysta you absolutely keep nailing these things so perfectly!

    I am very much the overreactor. I’ve just had an experience … well I’ll be honest and say my first attempt at a romantic experience post my separation, that unfortunately went dismally wrong. I’ve looked back at my actions and I think while I was perhaps a little hasty, the actions I took (my inputs) I can live with … the reactions of the other person, I cannot control.

    Yet I have blown this thing up into a massive issue in my mind. Just as you said I’ve let this experience of this single issue to be bigger than my entire life experience right now. It’s dominating my every waking moment and making my life pure misery.

    All of your tools for addressing this resonated with me. I’m going to read this one over and over again, because I think this toolset is exactly what I need!

    The hardest part is wanting to be able to switch from overreactor to “responder” overnight. That isn’t going to happen. But I think by trying to practice these tools I can make definite improvement.

    Thanks so much Chrysta, I want you to know that your writing really makes a difference!

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Chris!

      I, too, struggle with wanting to immediately change behaviors that aren’t working for me, and I can get frustrated when I don’t overcome those behaviors overnight. It’s really no surprise as it took me years to develop those behaviors and it will take more than a few days and a lot of practice to replace ineffective behaviors with effective ones!

      One belief I have learned to love is progress, not perfection. As long as I am making progress, I am doing great! I don’t have to have it all figured out because I can’t and I never will. Sometimes I’ll slip back into ineffective behaviors learned from my past but I can always choose to change my attitude and my actions when I recognize this is happening.

      I’m so glad this post was helpful to you! Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

  13. Chrysta,
    You have succinctly pared the elements of what happens to many of us when faced with life gone awry. It feels icky when life doesn’t go as expected. But no one is immune to this, right? We all have challenges, situations and people in life who “let us down.”

    I often have reacted when faced with dashed hopes and expectations by intellectualizing the mishaps. This only further exacerbates my misery by looking for a single cause, a specific answer to why someone could do “that” to me or why something can happen, as if figuring that out would solve all my pain.

    The trouble is, intellectualizing doesn’t provide the relief I so desperately want. In fact it overloads my brain and causes greater anxiety.

    Responding is different than reacting and the key is pausing. Sometimes you just have to admit that something someone did hurts or causes problems for you and sit in it for a while. A lot of things don’t have causes our brains can unravel. They just are. Accept that something sucks and move on. I keep having to teach myself this all the time.

    • Thanks for your awesome comment, Christian!

      I have a habit of intellectualizing problems, too. Like you, I find this behavior causes me greater anxiety because I internalize the problem. I am learning to accept life as it is, learn from the situation, and let it go. This has been such a healing practice for me!

      Thank you for sharing your experience and challenges. I love it when we can learn from each other. :)

      Have a grateful day!

      Chrysta

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