They went and did it again: Your partner darted off to work this morning, leaving a pile of dirty clothes all over the floor. No matter how many times you talk to your love about how this makes you feel pressured to clean up after them, they persist in leaving the house messier than you prefer. At this point, you can’t wait until the day is done so you can ream them a new one.
But wait. Is it really worth potentially damaging your relationship with the person you love over a couple of dirty clothes? Probably not. However justified your frustration may be, the fact remains it probably won’t matter a week from today. When minor frustrations strike, how can you keep from overreacting and sweating the small stuff? Here’s how.
What Are Some Signs of Overreacting?
The first step in eliminating overreacting involves identifying your triggers. Do certain situations make your blood boil more than others? Buy yourself a notebook and for a week, write out your feelings every time you feel yourself getting ready to go ballistic. This will help you identify what sets you off most.
When you overreact, you experience both physical and mental signs. Some signs you may be overreacting include:
- Racing heart. When you get angry, your body releases more adrenaline. This evolved biologically as a reaction to stress to prepare the muscles for flight or fight. However, unless someone is threatening to beat you up or you’re facing an angry mama grizzly bear, a racing heart indicates a kettle about to vent some steam.
- Sweaty palms. Adrenaline increases sweat production, so if you find your palms growing sweaty as you start to feel tense, check yourself.
- Red face. Adrenaline also increases blood flow to the surface of the skin, resulting in a rosy face. If you’re ready to blow your lid, you may even see red — literally — as the blood pressure in your eyes increases.
- Racing, angry thoughts. Pay attention to your thoughts. When you’re about to overreact, usually, your thoughts race quickly from one thing to the next. If you find yourself cursing a rant a mile a minute under your breath, slow down and take a few deep ones.
- All-or-nothing thinking. When you overreact, thinking goes from shades of grey to black and white. If your romantic partner cancels date night, you may think, “They don’t love me anymore,” not, “They’re working very hard due to a big deadline.” If your boss calls you into her office, it must be to fire you, not to ask your input on how to proceed with a project.
When you recognize any of the above signs, take time to check in with yourself. Stop what you’re doing and take a few deep, long breaths. Then, consider the tips below to de-escalate your mood before you do or say something you’ll later regret.
Tips for Checking Yourself When an Overreaction Looms
Failing to manage anger with emotional intelligence can impact everything from your career to your intimate relationships. With so much on the line, it pays to manage overreacting before damage is done. Consider the following:
- Step away. Remember when you were in school and misbehaved? The teacher probably put you in time out. When you feel your emotions about to blow, excuse yourself and put space between you and the person raising your hackles. This gives you time to cool your adrenaline jets and look at the situation reasonably.
- Take a little exercise. Since adrenaline causes you to overreact, getting rid of it returns you to a healthier state of mind. If at all possible, take a brisk walk around the block or go for a bike ride or jog if not at work. Burning off the excess energy will help you see challenges in a new light.
- Count to 10 or take 24 hours. If you’re at work and a coworker says something which grinds your gears, take a deep breath and count to 10 before responding. This helps cut the urge to respond with sarcasm. If dealing with a personal conflict, give yourself 24 hours prior to approaching the issue with your children or partner.
- But don’t wait too long to have tough convos. Prolonging the inevitable will only create more stress. Aim to keep such conversations positive and upbeat.
- Make sure to stay rested and well-fed. Anyone who has ever felt hangry knows that maintaining a pleasant demeanor proves tougher when you’re starving. There’s a reason Snickers uses the tagline, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” The same goes for sleep — sleep deprivation makes tempers grow short. Aim to eat six small meals daily and get at least seven hours of sleep nightly.
Additionally, if you find yourself overreacting often, consider cognitive behavioral therapy. Everyone benefits from anger management training to understand their triggers and modify the way they react to negative stimuli.
Is It Ever Appropriate to Overreact?
While it’s smart to avoid overreacting, in some situations, responding with extreme words or behavior represents a reasonable course of action. For example, if someone steps on our foot in the grocery line, we feel justified in shouting, “Ouch!”
Acts of domestic violence demand immediate and extreme responses, even if doing so makes you uncomfortable. Half of all female homicides occur at the hands of someone the woman knows intimately. The first time a partner is aggressive with you or threatens to be so, leave. Don’t wait around to see if they make good on their threat and become a statistic.
The same goes when dealing with harassment at work. Report incidents of harassment to HR immediately. It’s not your job to confront workplace bullies, but reporting helps others who may be fearful to report inappropriate behavior.
Keeping a Cool Head in Heated Situations
Everyone overreacts from time to time, but doing so regularly brands you as a hothead. The next time you feel yourself gearing up to go nuclear, step back, take a deep breath, and try the tips above. Your future self will thank you.