Overreaction

We all have emotions. Can’t ignore ‘em, can’t always control ‘em. We are all at their mercy to some degree. Maybe you consider yourself an ‘emotional type’. A feeler. Perhaps the smallest thing can cause your blood to boil or a tear to well. And on the flip side, you may feel a lot of joy and happiness when all is good with the world.

Or maybe you’re on the stoic end of the spectrum. Never overly excited. Rarely terribly down. What you might describe as ‘level headed’. It’s not that you don’t feel; it’s just that emotion doesn’t flood you the way it does with more sensitive types.

Perhaps these differences come down to chemical changes triggered in our bodies that aren’t quite the same. But even if you are a feeler, there are often reasons why your days are a slalom of sensitivity — thought patterns that become habitual over time and create unnecessary anxiety, stress and frustration. And when there are negative thought patterns, there are always methods to help you step off that slalom course and take straighter emotional path. Here are 5 ways we get reactive, followed by 5 ways to stop reacting.

Road Rage

5 Ways we get reactive

Over-exaggerating

You’ve probably heard the expression, don’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s advice that’s worth repeating. Do you find yourself making a bigger deal out of things that really don’t need to take up all that energy? Maybe someone cut you off while driving and you can feel the road rage welling up. Perhaps you’re running a couple minutes late for work and your anxiety levels are rising. Or maybe you’re describing to someone your experience at motor vehicle registration and lapsing into hyperbole. But, really, was it all so bad? 

Of course, you’re overreacting, and we are all guilty of it at one time or another, but we need to ask ourselves, is this really going to help me get through my day in a positive way? Is this attitude — or are these thought patterns — really serving me? Looking for the positives may be a better way to address the situation, and to reverse-engineer your thought processes. Here are a few examples:

Hey, so that person didn’t see me coming and drove out in front of me. It happens. I’m thankful I’m safe and have this lovely car to drive around in.

I’m running a couple minutes late for work, but it’s no big deal. I have lots of time to get my work done. I’m so thankful for this job! 

I’m glad I had the assistance to help me with my vehicle registration. They are so busy and do their best to handle all the people in a friendly and organized way.

Often, overexaggerating occurs when we allow our thought patterns to turn to a negative path. We will always encounter situations that may cause little surprises throughout our day, so how we react to these little curveballs becomes important so that they don’t snowball into a mindset completely out of line with the reality of the situation.

Jumping to conclusions

You receive an email regarding an appointment you have been waiting on for some time. Your automatic reaction is, Oh great! It’s canceled. You open the email and discover the practitioner is merely confirming your appointment.

Or, you feel like you are being criticized behind your back by your co-workers, only to find out they were actually planning a celebratory get-together for your birthday.

When we jump to conclusions, we run the risk of creating anger, frustration and resentment. We can start arguments that need never happen. Better to take a breath, think things over and, if necessary, ask clarifying questions, than to boil over in a needless rage. Also, seeking out positive thought patterns, instead of turning to negative ones, will help diminish these assumptions.

Worrying about things we cannot control

Consider this old story, which I first heard retold by the awesome Srikumar Rao and am paraphrasing:

A man decided to breed horses, so he went out and spent his life’s savings on a stud and a mare. When he brought the horses home and tied them outside, his neighbours were jealous, saying “You have a license to print money now. You’ll make a fortune! This is very good for you.” The man replied…

“Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad. We’ll see.”

That night, there was a great storm. The horses were flustered by the thunder and ran away. The next morning, the man’s neighbours said, “Oh no! Your horses are gone and your life savings right along with them. This is awful for you!” The man replied…

“Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad. We’ll see.”

The next day, the horses returned and had brought with them another half dozen strong-looking wild horses. The man now had a whole stable! His neighbours proclaimed, “How lucky you are! You can train, sell, and breed these horses. You are so fortunate!” The man replied…

“Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad. We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, the man’s only son was out trying to tame the wildest of the horses, which bucked and threw him to the ground. He broke his leg badly. “What a tragedy,” said the man’s neighbours. “With your only son so injured, you may not be able to keep up with the demands of the animals. How terrible for you!” The man replied…

“Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad. We’ll see.”

Within a few days, war broke out between the man’s nation and a neighbouring enemy. The government came around forcibly enlisting all able-bodied young men. Due to his injuries, the man’s son was left behind while the neighbours saw their children go off to fight — and likely die — for their country. “You are so lucky,” said the neighbours. “You got to keep your son at home, while we must cry ourselves to sleep every night with the worry. You are so blessed!” The man replied…

“Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad. We’ll see.”

And so the story goes on, demonstrating the importance of not taking the twists and turns of this life at face value. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. There are no guarantees, but many clouds do bring with them a silver lining.

Most importantly, for all the best laid plans, at a certain point we must accept that there are things that will happen in this life that are completely out of our control. That’s not to say goal setting and planning aren’t important — they absolutely are — but when our plans are scuppered by some unseen curveball, we must roll with the punches, accept what has happened, and find a new, or at least a slightly adjusted, path forward.

Feeling overwhelmed

Hey, we get it. Life is busy. Work, family, pets, finances, volunteering, commitments — not to mention all that social media and email constantly beeping and flashing for your attention. When you look around these days, it can sometimes feel like overwhelm has become the norm; the default state.

Some people wear overwhelm like a badge. It’s an unfortunate trend that creeps into workplaces and peer groups — the need to be seen to be busy. If we’re not taking on too much, we’re not taking on enough, it seems.

Relax. Life churns on. It doesn’t pause because you are having an off day. But you can pause. And you should.

Get out of the overwhelm headspace. Seek to prioritize and simplify. Oust that which does not serve you. Unsubscribe from those email lists that are sending you nothing but more crap to sort through. Take a mental health day. Write down your feelings. Meditate. It’s okay to take time for YOU!

Attachment

You know who owes you something? No one. You know what material possession is going to make you happy? None of them. You know that dream vacation you’ve been wanting to take, but you can’t because the dog or Great Aunt Mable or work or a thousand other ties are binding you? Take the damn vacation.

There’s nothing wrong with being close to someone — your life partner, your mother, your kids — but there is plenty wrong with attaching your happiness to them, or to theirs. Everyone is their own person, with their own experiences, world view, and challenges. Be kind, be understanding, but also be your own person. Don’t imagine you own someone, and don’t let your energy be dictated by someone else’s.

A sense of loyalty can be a great thing, but taken too far, it can also be limiting. Take care of those you love, but don’t allow their mentality or situation to limit your life. Assuming we only get one crack at it, we need to be able to think and act independently of others. Too much attachment can drag us into other people’s mires, or merely lead us astray from our own goals and path.

Meditation

5 Ways to Stop Reacting

Mindfulness

It may sound obvious, but perhaps the most powerful way we can combat a reactive state is to practice mindfulness — keeping ourselves calm and focused on the here and now. Often, poor reactions are born of an anxious mindset, which is in turn caused by too much obsessing about past or future events over which we have no control.

All we can control is what we do in the moment. By bringing our focus back to our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and the surrounding environment, and by treating those experiences in a gentle, non-judgemental way, we bring ourselves back to a state of presence and calm.

Next time you find your thoughts racing, your mind replaying events gone by, or yourself worrying about what’s to come, take a deep breath and look around. Admire the details in the nature around you. Feel the life-giving air flowing into your lungs. Bring yourself back to the moment you are in. It is, after all, the only thing that’s real.

Meditation

Regular meditation can help tame those racing thoughts and keep you feeling calm and focused.

During the practice, you will literally have the opportunity to become still and focused only on your breath, a mantra, or the voice of the meditation guide, depending on the type of meditation you have opted for.

With regular meditation practice, these benefits will work their way into your everyday. The act of allowing your thoughts to run their course and drift to the surface of your consciousness, practiced over time, will grant you a calmer, more considered mindset when you are going about your day-to-day life.

The benefits of meditation are by now well documented in many scientific tests and, in today’s busy, fast-paced, anxiety-inducing world, not practicing this ancient art truly is a missed opportunity to help oneself perform more rationally, efficiently and effectively.

Be Kind

Here’s some shocking news: It isn’t all about you. It can be easy to judge someone else based on an isolated encounter, or a few brief interactions, but consider this: Are you, at your most vulnerable, always a wonderful, together person? The truth is, none of us are. Even if we are getting regular exercise, eating well, and practicing lots of yoga and meditation, we are going to have challenging times that affect our mood and our interactions with others.

So, next time someone appears ignorant, mean, standoffish, or behaves in any way that causes your mind to move immediately to judgement, don’t be so quick to condemn. The truth is, you never know what someone else is going through. Maybe that flippant barista just suffered the loss of a loved-one. Perhaps a difficult family member or friend is having financial issues that are playing on their mind.

There are many ways we can all be affected by other things going on in our lives. The best thing we can do is to try not to judge, and treat everyone with kindness and compassion. After all, this life isn’t always easy! Kindness costs nothing and can go a long way to making a person’s day — and the world a little bit of a better place.

Practice Gratitude

Do you ever find yourself cursing your bad luck, or looking longingly over the garden fence at the Joneses’ newest ATV, SUV, or ride-on lawnmower? Do you ever look at the successes of peers in your field and feel you are never quite up to par? Well, you need to stop.

If there’s one thing that can cripple your self-worth, confidence, and progress in the things you are looking to achieve, it’s jealousy and envy. On the other hand, by practicing an attitude of gratitude, you will create an energizing base of positive thinking that will help you get what you want out of life.

In short, focus on you. The seeming successes of others have nothing to do with what you are trying to achieve. Sure, look up to people and admire them in a positive way. Have heroes, influencers and mentors. But don’t chastise yourself for not having what someone else has.

For one thing — and this is particularly true in this world of social media, where everyone is showing the world their highlight reel — the successes of others may not be as impressive as they are made to seem. Or, they are every bit that successful and toiling 24/7 to have those successes (in which case, kudos to them, and move on).

All that is important for you is to be focused on your own goals, and this begins with being grateful for what you have, and what you have achieved.

Look at it this way: There will always be someone who seems to be better off than you. But, equally, there will absolutely always be countless people who are worse off than you. Imagine those living in third-world countries, or who are born into slavery. Be thankful you have freedom, and those things we all take for granted, like a roof over our head, access to education, clean, disease-free water — the list very much goes on.

Gratitude is the cornerstone of success. Be thankful for all you have, and focused on all you would like to have and to achieve. You will find that this approach will give you a grounded mindset and prevent reactive attitudes.

Say Some Affirmations

We have established that our ‘self talk’ — I.e. what we think or say to ourselves — is critical to our overall wellbeing. But sometimes those negative thoughts creep in and, before we know it, we’re on a slippery slope of thinking that leads to dark places.

Affirmations are a great way to kickstart positive thinking and put our minds on the right track.

Louise Hay was one of the great proponents of affirmations and provided us with a multitude of simple but powerful statements to help us practice gratitude, positivity, and optimism. These could be as simple as:

Life loves me

I am willing to let go

The past is over

I welcome new ideas

I am willing to change

If you find your thoughts drifting to a negative place, try spending just a few minutes every day saying some affirmations out loud. These can be pre-written affirmations, or phrases of your own creation. You’ll be amazed at the power of saying these positive statements out loud each day to put your mind into a proactive, rather than a reactive, state.

So there you have it. 5 ways in which we tend to react, and 5 ways to counter the mental state of reaction. Give some of these techniques a try and let us know what works for you.

Read the blog post: An Introduction to Meditation