Can you recall saying things you didn’t mean in the heat of anger or other strong emotions? Me too – how human of you!
While such instances may not necessarily cause lasting harm, developing a reputation as a “hothead”, “drama queen” or “drama king” may damage our careers, personal relationships and sense of self-worth.
Can we find ways to prevent an overreaction becoming a full meltdown?
Yes, it is possible – if we’re able to overcome our tendency to jump to conclusions, and instead reflect before speaking. By increasing our self-awareness, we can avoid firing off reactive warning shots the moment a response reaches our lips.
Instead we can step back, take a deep breath and consider the consequences of shooting from the hip. Here follows a more in-depth look at why we go over the edge, as well as suggestions for keeping your cool when things get heated.
What Does Overreacting Look and Feel Like?
Many times, we overreact to minor stimuli that would roll right off our backs if we weren’t already feeling stressed. For instance, when we’re under pressure, our frustration at a traffic jam on the way to work can escalate into a personal vendetta against all drivers we encounter. We scream, curse, shoot the bird, and only cool our road rage when we catch flashing lights in our rear-view mirrors.
An overreaction can often feel like your sky is falling. Your palms and armpits might sweat, your face may feel flushed and turn red, and your heart rate and breathing will often speed up. You’re feeling your body getting ready for fight or flight as adrenaline courses your veins to prepare you for battle.
Onlookers may perceive that you’re making a mountain out of a molehill. Those around you may form a negative impression of you, even when they may be able to relate to how you feel.
People who strive for emotional maturity try to learn how to handle their reactions. Your colleagues and loved ones may expect this from you and feel confused or upset if faced with an inordinately angry response.
Tips for Easing an Overreaction When You Feel One Coming
Knowing how your overreaction is likely to be perceived – and how it might make others feel – it’s likely you’d prefer to stop yourself in time. Here’s how to de-escalate yourself when you feel ready to blow your fuse:
- Remove yourself from the trigger: Politely excuse yourself from the situation. You don’t have to explain yourself – merely say you need a few moments to think. Most people respect this need, and those who don’t may have anger problems of their own.
- Engage in physical activity to diffuse anger: Take a brisk walk around the office building if you’re at work, dance to music, or even scrub the bathroom if you are angry at someone you live with (providing you’ve not been arguing about bathroom cleaning!). Physical movement helps rebalance adrenaline levels.
- Practice mindfulness meditation to see the situation in a new light: Once fury begins to ease, if possible sit in quiet contemplation. Ask yourself what triggers brought on strong emotions. Try to consider issues from the opposing perspective and find things in common. You might reflect on how you were both once young children seeking approval and love, or how you both value feeling heard and understood.
How Anger Management Benefits Everyone
Those who tend to feel the most angry will often seek more things to rage at.
Chronic anger is not just difficult for others to be around, but can damage your physical health – some researchers have suggested that anger increases the risk of heart disease. Luckily, there are many options available to learn how to ease your anger.
For me, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been transformative for managing my emotions. CBT taught me how to identify and then reframe thoughts that triggered me to overreact.
I can now relate in a more balanced and compassionate way to those I love. I’ve also seen positive results in the workplace and feel less anxious that I may lose control and possibly damage my relationships and reputation.
Additionally, finding a quality anger management therapist or class can often be of huge benefit. Even if you don’t feel you need therapy long term, learning how to manage your emotions can help everything from your relationships to your career trajectory.
Choose to Go Drama-Free and Control Overreactions
Even if overreacting has become your default position when under stress, you can learn more positive habits. These include removing yourself from triggers, engaging in physical activity, reflecting meditatively and gaining support. By adopting these practices you may find you’re able to remain as cool as a cucumber under pressure, and enjoy more easeful and compassionate interactions.