3 Ways to Stop an Overreaction When You’re in the Middle of One

A psychotherapist suggests how to put things in perspective during a tense moment.

Indeed/Getty Images
Indeed/Getty Images

We’d gone through this before. I knew we had.

I was staring at a co-worker with a flabbergasted look on my face wondering how a pivotal project had encountered a significant delay…again. I could feel my blood pressure rising as my heart raced, propelling me toward a full-blown melt down. I started to formulate my retort, laced with a condescending tone, but after a few words left my mouth, I caught myself.

In the end, I didn’t completely overreact, even though the situation had me dangling perilously close to the point of no return. Here’s how you can do the same:

Put the Situation in Perspective

When day-to-day frustrations on the job, in relationships, or even on the freeway threaten our happiness, it’s easy to let our emotions take charge and influence how we respond. But the truth is, most situations don’t warrant that level of energy or attention. When you find yourself on the brink of an overreaction, think: Will this matter next week? Will this matter next month? How about next year?

Chances are, you’ll see how the specific situation has little long-term impact. And if something that doesn’t go your way doesn’t matter months down the road, it definitely doesn’t warrant a heated exchange or a stress-induced panic or anxiety attack.

Psychotherapist Ilene S. Cohen, Ph.D. also recommends knowing your triggers. In a Psychology Today post, she describes how she often overreacts when she works hard on something and then receives criticism.

“Knowing this about myself, I become more aware of my reactions and try to more calmly respond to people when they’re offering criticism,” she said.

Think of the Ripple Effects of Your Actions

Everything we say or do has the power to influence others, for better or for worse. When we give into our frustrations and overreact, there will always be consequences. You may think that an emotional outburst or a snarky email reply will put the offender in his or her place, but it will likely make you look unprofessional or incapable of handling conflict.

In the workplace, managers appreciate solutions as opposed to solely complaining about problems. So do most people — so whether at home or on the job, look for productive ways to address a challenge versus focusing time or energy on losing your cool.

It may be easier said than done, but maybe you have a toddler who decided to show off his or her artistic talents on the living room wall? Channel your frustration into a kid-friendly clean-up process, plus a new whiteboard or easel. Neighbor’s lawn continually bringing down the look of your street? Stave off a confrontation by sharing an extra bag of fertilizer or better yet, mentioning your son’s summer lawn mowing gig.

Think of Others First, Always

Overreactions are often directed at specific people — a loved one who broke our trust, a co-worker like mine who missed a crucial deadline, or a complete stranger who snagged the last doorbuster deal on Black Friday. But if you live by the golden rule that many of us do — treating others like you want to be treated — overreacting is likely not the way to maintain relationships or at least respect others.

When you undoubtedly make a poor choice in the future, you don’t want to be the target of someone’s outburst. It doesn’t feel good, so why inflict that on someone else? And while venting sessions are often needed, overreacting to most situations doesn’t leave you feeling better than when you started.

See, people as just that — people — and you’ll become more tolerant of those around you who make mistakes from time to time, much like we all do.

The temptation to overreact presents itself day in and day out, but with the right tools, you’ll be able to respond in healthy ways. This, in turn, strengthens relationships, propels you toward your goals, and helps you stay authentic and real. Reactions are a given, but being able to curb your overreactions can save you grief down the road.

Originally published on Talkspace.

More from Talkspace:

How to Be Brave About Your Mental Health

Why You Should Celebrate Small Wins

Is Your Boss Affecting Your Mental Health?

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