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5 Ways to Prevent Overreacting

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5 Ways to Prevent Overreacting

By Jon Spayde, Experience Life

Perhaps it was meant as a helpful suggestion. Maybe it was intended as a straight-up accusation or invitation to argue. Either way, if it sends you into emotional hyperspace, it will probably result in an ugly aftermath — a blowout with your spouse or a nasty encounter with a coworker. The resulting surge of stress hormones can leave everyone feeling shell-shocked. And harsh words spoken in haste can do lasting damage to your relationships. So how do you prevent spontaneous, seemingly uncontrollable overreactions from getting the better of you? According to Judith Siegel, PhD, LCSW, author of Stop Overreacting: Effective Strategies for Calming Your Emotions (New Harbinger, 2010), heeding “early warning signals” from our bodies can give us a chance to dampen emotional fires before they burn out of control.

Barriers to Overcome

• The triggering emotions. There are four main triggers for overreaction, says Siegel: envy, rejection, resentment at being criticized and loss of control. Even the most seemingly benign interaction may spark one of these responses, triggering our fight-or-flight response and limiting our ability to react in a rational or constructive way.

• Black-or-white perception. As an emotional overreaction builds, you’re likely to see situations or people as either all good or all bad. “At those moments,” says Siegel, “it’s as if we had a two-drawer filing cabinet in our heads. When the ‘bad’ drawer is open, the ‘good’ one has to be closed. We can’t see any redeeming features in the situation or the other person.”

• Flooding. “In addition to dealing with the challenging moment at hand, you may find that every old and negative emotional memory associated with the situation floods over you,” Siegel explains. That can make the current situation seem bigger and more connected to higher stakes than it really is.

• Feeling entitled. The black-or-white response, intensified by “flooding,” can result in your feeling justified in having an outburst or other extreme reaction.

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Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.


+ add your own
10:22AM PDT on Mar 27, 2012

Thank you for this. I am definitely guilty of overreacting...

9:30AM PDT on May 1, 2011


5:38PM PST on Mar 1, 2011


5:37PM PST on Mar 1, 2011


2:31PM PST on Jan 29, 2011

Agree that the term 'flooding' is quite appropriate. Good article.

9:59PM PST on Jan 26, 2011

I was sold a faulty item. When I discovered that the attachments were missing and returned to the store, staff's responses were dismissive with a 'don't care' attitude. I later again took it back thinking I would deal with staff who were professionally trained in customer service. My friends and I were unsuccessful in buying the missing part, so I phoned their HeadOffice. I phoned the store to let them know HO would replace the item for me. I double-checked that he understood what I needed. Two days later he phoned me to tell me what the item was - that it wasn't only the missing part. He had not listened! It took a month to receive the Gift Card to replace the item. On my 14th phone call, I left a message (they rarely answer their phones) that I would collect the item the next day.
The next day, neither the item nor the mgr. was available when I drove to the outlying store. I was annoyed. Although I felt like strangling him - he wasn't there and hadn't bothered to tell others. On the following day, he arranged for reception to call me because he lacked the courtesy of calling me to apologise. I queried whether this was the way they treated all customers, etc. He then phoned me and said he'd been holding the item for 2 weeks and why had I not collected it - although he knew I was waiting for the Gift Card.
I didn't breathe deeply, I didn't name my emotion, nor recast criticism. After listening to his arrogance and when I assessed my state, I rais

7:03PM PST on Jan 24, 2011

helpful, thanx :)

1:53PM PST on Jan 24, 2011


9:45AM PST on Jan 24, 2011

Of the 5 tips, I find the last one "Recast criticism" as extremely difficult, if not impossible, especially when flooded by negative emotions. But I will give all 5 a try next time I start to overreact. Thanks for sharing.

9:28AM PST on Jan 24, 2011

This is helpful, thanks.

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