Overreacting (a brief guide)

In this brief guide, we will discuss what overreacting means and how to stop overreacting.

Overreacting: what does it mean?

Overreacting is the gerund or present participle of the word overreact which means “respond more emotionally or forcibly than is justified”. 

On occasion, we tend to overreact towards certain situations that are actually considered “small stuff”, without even realizing our reaction is disproportionate.

If you think you find yourself, more often than not, getting angry, upset, aggressive or very defensive over little things, then rest assured that there are some strategies and tips you can benefit from to manage more effectively your emotional reactions.

However, we are not saying it is a bad thing to let your emotions out or exploding from time to time but the thing is, that after we have exploded, we tend to feel bad about ourselves and sometimes we even realize we have hurt people in the process.

Dealing and Expressing our emotions in a more effective way can help us prevent hurting those we love. 

For example, let’s think about a situation where you think or know you have overreacted.

It could be at home with your partner or kids, it could be with your mother, father or a sibling, or it could be at work with a colleague.

We’ve all been there and done something similar, but the truth is that it surely is not helpful. 

Overreacting has never made any situation better, it usually makes it worse.

Even if we feel better after we have released the tension as it comes, it creates more tension and stress. 

According to Ilene Strauss Cohen Ph.D. from Psychology Today “So when you find yourself sweating the small stuff, it might be a sign that there are other, deeper problems you aren’t dealing with, making you liable to knock a gasket at any moment.”

Are you constantly getting accused of overreacting? People often tell you, you lose your temper easily? 

Well, this can be considered a personality trait that tends to have certain characteristic symptoms and behaviors.

There are said to be two kinds of overreactions: external and internal.

The external are those visible reactions that everyone can see, for example walking away or throwing your hands up, yelling, among others. 

In contrast, the internal overreactions are emotional responses that remain inside and others may or may not be aware of them.

For instance, re-thinking and analyzing what you did wrong over a past situation or overanalyzing what other people have said during an argument. 

Ask yourself, Do you often regret things you have said or done?, Do you tend to lash out on people?,

You normally find yourself apologizing to others?, Do you tend to walk away when things get emotionally overwhelming?

If you have said yes to all or the majority, you may be struggling with overreacting. 

According to harleytherapy.co.uk, overactive personalities tend to manifest behaviors and symptoms that include:

  • being impulsive
  • dissociation (struggling to stay present in the face of conflict)
  • high sensitivity to criticism
  • perfectionism
  • struggling to accept the here and now
  • anger management
  • quick to make assumptions
  • difficulty seeing other perspectives
  • black and white thinking and other cognitive distortions.

It is recommended to consult a mental health therapist because in some cases an overactive personality can be a sign of personality disorders (borderline, histrionic or narcissistic), among others.

Getting the correct diagnosis is important to be able to start treatment as early as possible. 

What can I do?

It is important to start by identifying the triggers that lead us to overreact at certain times.

If we learn what they are, then we can manage them more effectively and have more control over the situation.

If you are not sure about what your triggers are, try analyzing during the past week the times you were upset and why, it helps to write them down.

Even if you had motives or reasons to be upset, identify those that bothered you the most.

For instance, it could be feeling rejected, criticized, something you consider not fair or a sensitive subject to you, such as politics or religion. 

Also, think about environmental factors, such as whether you were tired, hungry or anxious about something else at that precise moment (e.g work, school, university). 

It is recommended, “If you can find out what triggers you and get a sense of the circumstances around those triggers, you might be able to better manage yourself when something upsets you in the future (Ilene Straus Cohen, Ph.D.).” 

Once you have identified your triggers, you can gain some perspective over the situations and what really happened for you to have lost your cool.

Look back but try not to feel guilty about things you have done, there is nothing you can do about them now. 

Ask yourself questions about why you did it and what you could have done differently but not with the intention for you to feel bad about it or have any kind of remorse, but to learn from it and do things differently next time.

Let’s analyze some of the tips and suggestions we have talked about more in-depth. 

Try to imagine the consequences

When we are feeling how our emotional response arises, we tend to avoid thinking clearly about what will happen if we react in a certain way.

Trying to picture the result can help us modify the outcome or find a better solution/course of action. 

Don’t neglect the basics

As we discussed, sometimes our overreactions are heightened due to unsatisfied “basic” needs.

For instance, lack of sleep, being hungry or thirsty, lack of leisure time, among others.

These make us more overactive and tend to contribute to exaggerated responses. 

If we have identified we are hungry and that is making us feel irritable before you engage in any activity, try to satisfy that basic need first and then keep on going. 

Give it a name

Recognize, identify and name your bodily reactions.

If you are feeling tense, your neck hurts, you have that sensation of the pit of your stomach, heart palpitations, sweating, blushing, this could indicate that you are in danger of overreacting, of being controlled by your emotions.

If you become aware of your responses after identifying the physical cues, then you can step ahead and prevent an exaggerated response. 

Put a positive spin on it

After naming and identifying those responses, you can actually modify them with your thoughts.

As Julie Hanks, LSCW, explains “When we have intense emotions it’s easy to go to a worst-case scenario as an explanation for whatever you’re reacting to (e.g., “they’ve never liked me” or “she always criticizes me.”)  Watch for all-or-nothing words like “always” and “never” as clues that you’re heading toward a worst-case scenario.”

If you consider someone is mean to you or offends you then consider the possibility that maybe the insult is not meant to be personal.

People can also have difficult situations or environmental triggers that can make them react emotionally (and you just happened to be there). 

Breathe before you act/respond

Before you lose your temper and snap, try breathing slowly, taking deep breaths.

This allows you to slow down your physiological activation, allowing you to calm down and think clearly.

One of the most common scenarios is when someone cuts you off in traffic, that is very annoying and we tend to overreact by honking at them, showing them the finger and even cursing sometimes.

Take a deep breath next time someone does that, you’ll notice the difference.

Resolve the emotional “burden” you’ve been carrying

We all carry some emotional “burden” with us since we were little kids. We may have learned from our parents/carers how to react to certain situations, even mimicking them.

Additionally, we have certain unresolved emotions that make us feel very uncomfortable, irritable and we never actually addressed and resolved. 

What are the reasons I am overreacting?

This can have rooted a while back, during your childhood. Probably you had strict or critical parents, where you were not allowed to be yourself.

A parent or carer that had a mental disorder or had an addiction, means you have to always be good and avoid giving them any trouble. 

Additionally, if you experienced trauma during childhood, it can also contribute to having an over-reactive personality.

Something that was significantly painful in your past such as being abused, neglected, or abandoned, meant you had to develop certain defense mechanisms to cope with the pain and to protect yourself from getting hurt. 

Why is this blog about “overreacting” important?

We all have experienced at some point in our lives how we have overreacted to certain situations.

This is completely normal, we tend to do this to relieve some anxiety, anger, and other emotions. 

However, when the emotions are too strong or powerful we overreact or exaggerate our response without even considering the consequences.

It is necessary then to be aware of the triggers to be able to work on them and better manage our emotional responses.

Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about overreacting

How do I know if I am overreacting?

You can know you are overreacting if you often don’t stop to think about what you are going to say and you just say it, you make decisions without thinking and then regret the outcome, sometimes your thoughts over a situation are exaggerated or after you are calm, they tend to scare you.  

What does it mean when someone overreacts?

When someone overreacts it reacts to something too strong emotionally, or with unnecessary or excessive action. 

How do I stop reacting to everything?

Here are some tips to stop reacting to everything:

– Know the difference between reacting and overreacting.

– Identify your triggers.

– Breathe before you do anything.

– Think and pause before you act.

– Gain perspective on the past and the future.

– Don’t bottle up your emotions.

How can I regulate my emotions?

To regulate your emotions you can:

– Try not reacting right away, pause, breathe and think.

– See the bigger picture to gain perspective.

– Challenge your thoughts.

– Identify your emotional triggers and work with them.

– Identify your physical symptoms to anticipate yourself in the reaction.

How do I deal with an irrational husband?

You can deal with an irrational husband through the following tips:

– Listen to him without interrupting.

– Be patient and tolerant, no one is perfect.

– If you feel your emotional response is escalating get some fresh air.

– Try to view the bigger picture to gain perspective.

– Don’t retaliate. 

– Stay calm.

– Don’t take things personally.

– Give them some space, when they are calm then engage in a conversation.

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