How to Understand and Manage Your Overreactions

Understanding and managing organizational behavior.

managing organizational behavior, How to Understand and Manage Your Overreactions

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by a situation that seemed minor to others?

Have you ever reacted in a way that was disproportionate to the problem at hand?

Have you ever wondered why you get so easily triggered by certain things?

If you said yes, you are not alone.

Many people struggle with frustration intolerance, which often leads to an emotional response that is too intense, too frequent, or lasts far too long given the situation. Overreactions from frustration intolerance or situational activation can cause stress, anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, and conflict in your life.

They can also damage your relationships, your health, and your self-esteem.

But why do we overreact?

And what can we do to prevent or reduce our overreactions?

The answer lies in our brain and our nervous system. Our brain stores memories and associations from our past experiences, especially those that were stressful or traumatic.

These memories and associations can influence how we perceive and respond to the present. For example, if you grew up in a household where being on time was very important and being late was punished, you may have developed a strong association between being late and being in trouble.

This association may trigger an automatic response of fear and anxiety whenever you are running late or think you might be late. Your nervous system may activate the fight-or-flight mode, which prepares you for danger by releasing adrenaline and cortisol. This can make you feel overwhelmed, panicked, or angry.

However, this automatic response may not be appropriate or helpful for the current situation. Being late for a meeting or an appointment may not be a life-threatening event, but your brain and your nervous system may react as if it is.

Chronic overreactions may lead us to develop new neuropathways that train our system to be in perpetual fight or flight mode.

So how do we begin to break this cycle of overreacting?

These steps can help you:

  • Recognize the overreaction. The first step is to become aware of when you are overreacting and what triggers it. You can use clues such as your physical sensations (e.g., heart rate, breathing, sweating), your emotions (e.g., fear, anger, sadness), your thoughts (e.g., catastrophizing, blaming, judging), and your behaviors (e.g., yelling, crying, avoiding). You can also ask for feedback from others who know you well and can point out when you are overreacting.
  • Pause and breathe. The second step is to interrupt your automatic response and calm yourself down. You can do this by taking a few deep breaths, counting to ten, or doing something else that distracts you from the situation. This can help you lower your stress hormones and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation and recovery.
  • Explore the meaning behind your overreaction. The third step is to understand why you are overreacting and what it means to you.

You can use curiosity to ask yourself questions such as:

What is the worst thing that could happen if I am late?

How likely is it to happen?

How does being late make me feel about myself?

What does being on time mean to me?

Where does this meaning come from?

How does it relate to my past experiences or memories?

By exploring the meaning behind your overreaction, you can uncover the underlying beliefs and emotions that drive it. Challenge and change your overreaction.

  • The fourth step is to modify your overreaction and make it more appropriate and helpful for the situation. You can do this by challenging your negative thoughts and replacing them with more realistic and positive ones. For example, instead of thinking “I am going to be late and everyone will hate me”, you can think “I am doing my best to be on time and most people will understand”.

You can also change your emotions by expressing them in healthy ways, such as talking to someone, writing in a journal, or practicing self-care.

Another approach to behavior change is developing an action plan to solve the problem or cope with the situation. This includes asking for help and being prepared ahead of time with a fire drill plan. For instance, if you know you might run late last minute, have 90% of your preparation steps ready a day before.

By following these steps, you can learn to manage your overreactions. You can also connect with your body’s nervous system and regulate it better. This helps you improve your mental and emotional well-being, as well as your relationships with others.