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8 Tips to Overcome Emotional Reactivity and Become More Intentional Previous item A Love Letter to Lebanon... Next item 5 Brain Boosting Tips to...

8 Tips to Overcome Emotional Reactivity and Become More Intentional

Do you often feel as though the actions of others are personal attacks on you or your core beliefs? As though you’re constantly being affronted and are always on the defense? And do you feel as though you’re easily provoked and are powerless to reign in your reactions? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, it could be that you’re reacting to situations out of emotion, rather than responding to them out of intention.

So often in our lives we misinterpret the actions of others or feel as though the world is happening to us. It’s sometimes easy to forget that how other people act is always out of our control, but our own actions and responses are entirely within our power. Every single day, we get to choose how to respond to our circumstances. The circumstances may exist regardless, but our responses can vary widely.

Becoming more intentional, and less reactive, with our responses can equate to better relationships across the board, both to others and to ourselves. So what are some ways to become more intentional? Read on to find out!

1. Know Your Triggers

Knowing why you’re regularly reacting the way you do is an excellent first step to becoming a better communicator. Our triggers can come from so many sources, including childhood experiences, ancestral behaviors, and trauma, and how these triggers manifest is very much a personal thing.

To better understand where your reactivity is coming from, I recommend two strategies:
1- Speaking with a licensed therapist – The benefits of speaking with a neutral third party about such matters really can’t be understated. A therapist will be able to help you get to the root cause of your reactivity and, with a range of techniques catered to your circumstance, help you communicate from a place of intention and love.
2- Write down your feelings – We’ve written about keeping a journal on The Wellness Project loads of times, but it can truly be one of the best ways to dive into your subconscious and find patterns in how you think and feel. Every time you have an emotional reaction or outburst, bring out your trusty notebook and write down your experience. Record what happened, who was involved, how you’re feeling, why you felt out of control, and what you could have done differently.

2. Understand That It’s Not Personal

When you react to a situation, regardless of how you do it, you do so based on your entire lived experience up until this moment. Your reaction is essentially a culmination of taught behaviors and experiences that express themselves in a series of personality traits.

At the same time, everyone around you is playing out their own lived experiences in the only way that they know. How they act towards you, the opinions they hold, and how they handle situations are the result of a lifetime of experiences and teachings.

Meaning, the opinions someone holds and how they treat you rarely have anything to do with you as a person. Instead, these projections come from how that person feels about themselves and how they see the world based on their own life experience. Yes, sometimes someone’s views are hurtful and distorted, but it’s still never a personal attack on you. Because of this, we are never the cause of someone else’s emotions and, in turn, we can’t ever make someone feel a certain way.

Understanding emotional reactivity means understanding that you are responsible for your own emotions and that someone else’s reaction rarely has anything to do with you as a person. Of course, how we treat someone will always play a role in how they see us, but when discussing emotional reactivity, this is a helpful reminder in staying one step ahead.

3. Stay Open to Grey Area

In some cases, emotional reactivity can come from not seeing eye to eye with someone about an issue, statement, or topic. Especially around the holidays when we meet up with our distant cousins and inlaws, we can be regularly tested on our opinions and intentions, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the (perceived) worse.

In these situations, it’s best to respond out of curiosity instead of conclusion. When you find yourself in a disagreement with someone, ask them why they feel the way they do and, in turn, ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Don’t assume that the person you’re disagreeing with doesn’t have reasons for the way they feel, and don’t assume that they have ill intent. Remember, the other person involved is a thinking and feeling human being.

Even if you end up remaining steadfast in your opinions, curiosity before drawing a conclusion should always be at the forefront of your interactions.

4. Set Boundaries

Being emotionally reactive is sometimes brought upon by someone misinterpreting us, going against our core values, or being intentionally hurtful. Though I mentioned being open to grey area in my above point, it’s also important that you not open yourself up to abuse of any kind — whether that be mental, emotional, verbal, or physical.

When someone oversteps and you can’t immediately remove yourself from the situation, instead of responding with emotion, set firm boundaries. Tell them the topics you’re not willing to discuss, explain to them why you feel the way you do, give them precise guidelines on how to treat you, and, if necessary, remove this person from your life.

Boundaries are one of the most powerful tools we have in keeping our inner peace and should be used with abundance.

5. Practice Mindfulness

Emotions are powerful sensations and they often take control when we feel disconnected from both our bodies and our surroundings. If you feel like you’re about to be emotionally reactive to a situation, take a step back and practice mindfulness.

First, stay quiet and become aware of how you feel in your body. If you can, find a room where you can be alone for a minute or practice this silently while around others. Take a few deep breaths, plant your feet firmly on the floor, and close your eyes. Feel your arms and legs and pay attention to the room around you. Smell the aromas, hear the sounds, breathe, and slow yourself down.

And check out these 5 amazing things mindfulness and meditation does to your brain!

6. Count to 3 (or 30)

Chances are you’ve heard the adage to always “count to 3”, in which you take three full seconds to think before responding to a situation. This is good advice when in the moment, but I find that in more up-tempo situations, this can often be too trite of a solution.

If you find yourself extremely emotionally triggered by a circumstance and have some time to respond, I’d instead wait at least 30 seconds. This is a good unit of time when you’re texting someone or about to send an e-mail, as they won’t expect an immediate reply and it will give you time to calm yourself and collect your thoughts. Of course, if you need even more time, then that’s perfectly valid too.

You don’t always have to speak right after being spoken to, and you are always allowed to take your time when explaining yourself and giving a reply. Give yourself time to think, edit your thoughts, and then respond.

7. Feel Your Emotions

It may seem counterintuitive, but allowing yourself to feel your emotions can be one of the best things you do in combating emotional reactivity. When we suppress our emotions, we essentially push them down until they bubble up and we feel out of control. Though expressing our emotions isn’t always the best move in the moment, it’s always important to recognize how we’re feeling.

If you find yourself in situations where emotional reactivity is your default, instead take note of your emotions and set aside time later that evening to experience them. I recommend using a journal for this, but you can also just lay on your bed, put your hand over your heart, close your eyes, and mentally take yourself back into the moment where you had the emotion. Then, let yourself feel what you suppressed in that moment. Notice how your body feels and what sensations spring to the surface.

8. Stop Pouring From an Empty Cup

Though we’re all different, I often find that I myself am most emotionally reactive when I feel completely spent in a holistic sense — when I’ve given all I can physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In these instances, I find myself saying the first things that come to mind simply out of exhaustion, without fully caring about the repercussions in the moment.

It’s in these times that we need to take a serious step back and refill our cups — which is the essence of self-care. Pour back into yourself and your energy reserves with therapy, spending time alone, spending time with loved ones, learning a new skill, taking a break from work, practicing meditation, pampering yourself, cleaning your surroundings, exploring your spirituality, and nourishing your body.

A little bit of self-care can go a long way, and approaching life with a clear mind is always step number one in becoming less emotionally reactive.

That’s it for my eight tips to overcome emotional reactivity and become more intentional in your responses. There is obviously so much more to say on this important topic, and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below!