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Too much emotional reactivity? 

photo by Ryan Snaadt- emotional reactivity

Have you ever found yourself snapping at someone over a minor inconvenience, or feeling overwhelmed by anger or sadness in situations that don't seem to warrant such intense emotions? If so, you're experiencing what's known as emotional reactivity. Emotional reactivity is our tendency to respond to situations, people, or events with heightened emotions. It can make us feel like we’re not in control of our emotions, which often leads to stress and strained relationships.

At its core, emotional reactivity is heavily influenced by our past experiences, beliefs, and expectations. When we encounter a situation that subconsciously reminds us of a past event, our bodies react as if we're facing that past threat or challenge, even if the current situation is completely different. This "emotional echo" can make it challenging to respond appropriately in the moment.

Understanding that emotional reactivity is a common feature in human behavior can be the first step towards managing it. It's important to recognize that everyone has moments of heightened emotional response, and there's no shame in that. Controlling our emotions isn't about suppression; it's about acknowledging and managing them constructively.

How can I learn to reduce my emotional reactivity? 

One: Mindfulness 

One effective tool for becoming less reactive is mindfulness. Mindfulness involves staying present and fully engaging with the here and now. This practice helps you to recognize when you're beginning to react emotionally and to observe your feelings without judgment.

Two:  Take a deep breath and pause

Deep breathing exercises also play a crucial role in managing emotional reactivity. When you feel your emotions escalating, take a moment to breathe deeply. Inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth slowly can help reduce the intensity of your emotions, providing a space to reflect before reacting.  Implementing a "pause" technique can be incredibly effective. Before responding to a trigger, take a moment, even if it's just a few seconds, to pause and reflect on your response. This brief period can help you choose a more considered approach rather than impulsively reacting.   Check out these different breathing techniques

Three:  Get out a journal and start writing down your triggers and automatic thoughts. 

Another method is to identify triggers. Keep a journal and record instances where you felt overly reactive. Note what happened, how you felt, and what you think might have triggered your reaction. Over time, patterns might emerge that can help you anticipate and prepare for potential triggers.  It's also essential to challenge your automatic thoughts. When you're feeling reactive, ask yourself whether your response is proportional to the situation. Are you perhaps interpreting the situation based on past experiences or fears rather than what's actually happening?

photo by yoann boye

Four: Learn when you need to dig deeper with the help of therapy

Learning how to be less reactive is not just about personal mastery; it's also about understanding the underlying wounds that make you susceptible to reacting to certain situations. Therapy or counseling can be a great avenue for exploring these deeper issues and developing strategies for healing.  Remember, the goal isn't to eliminate emotions but to manage them effectively. Emotions are a crucial part of our experiences and responses to the world around us. Learning how to respond to them wisely is what matters.  Learn more about how Brainspotting can help reduce your overall emotional reactivity.  

Five: Practice constructive communication

Communication is key in mitigating emotional reactivity. Practice expressing your feelings in a constructive way. Instead of reacting defensively, try to articulate your thoughts and feelings calmly and clearly. This can help prevent misunderstandings and reduce the intensity of the interaction.  It often helps to write down what you want to say first, practice it aloud by yourself and then try saying it to the person you need to talk to.  

Six:  Tap into your support system to keep you on track with your goals around reducing emotional reactivity

Creating a support system is also vital. Surround yourself with friends, family, or colleagues who understand your goals and can provide advice and encouragement when you're struggling. Support networks can offer perspectives or solutions you might not have considered.  Tell your friends, spouse or coworker that you're trying to practice deep breathing, journaling or communicating better about when you're reactive.  You'll be automatically more aware of it because you've told someone you were going to work on it! 

Seven:  Get physical and work that s**t out! 

Regular physical activity can help reduce overall stress levels, which in turn can decrease instances of emotional reactivity. Whether it's a brisk walk, yoga, or a workout session at the gym, finding an activity that you enjoy can make a significant difference.

Eight:  Be patient, realistic and compassionate! 

Set realistic expectations for yourself. Learning to control emotional reactivity is a process, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Celebrate small victories along the way to motivate yourself and recognize your progress.  Be patient and compassionate with yourself. Changing deep-seated emotional responses takes time and effort. Encourage yourself with positive self-talk and acknowledge the hard work you’re putting in to make these changes.

Emotional reactivity can be a challenging barrier to overcome, but with the right tools and support, it is undoubtedly manageable. By learning more about your emotional patterns and practicing these techniques, you can achieve a more balanced emotional life, enhancing your relationships and overall wellbeing.  Armed with these strategies, you’ll find that over time, your capacity to handle emotional disturbances will grow, leading to a more fulfilling and less reactive life. Remember, emotional reactivity is not a flaw but a natural aspect of human behavior that can be understood and refined.

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