When something happens that gets your blood boiling, it's hard not to give in to your first instinct and react emotionally — but nothing feels worse than regretting an extreme reaction to a situation. Thankfully, there are mental tricks you can use to prevent you from overreacting, and utilizing these tactics can help you communicate more calmly and effectively. It's OK to feel heightened emotions in hard moments, but you want to make sure you don't do anything rash or hurtful that you may regret later.
"From a psychological evolutionary standpoint, our brains are simply wired to react," Dr. L.A. Barlow, LLP, LPC, Doctor of Psychology at Detroit Medical Center, tells Bustle. "Often, we as psychologists refer to episodes of overreaction as our brains getting ‘hijacked’ – whereby you may lose access to the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for rational and complex thinking. Thus, decision-making can become adversely affected and you might feel thrown off or disoriented. ‘Hijacks,’ however, can be controlled with practice and persistence."
If you tend to overreact to situations and end up thinking better of it later, you might want to take some steps to remain calm during tough times. Here are seven mental tricks that can help prevent you from overreacting in any situation, according to experts.
Change Your Perspective
How you look at a situation can determine not only how you feel about it, but how you react. "Try to find the good in the situation, even if the takeaway is learning something valuable for the next time you’re in a similar bind," says Dr. Barlow. "Every situation has its share of ups and downs, but changing the viewpoint and rethinking it through from other angles can help to better the situation for everyone involved."
Picture The Consequences
In a heated situation, we often don't think clearly about what will happen as a consequence of our actions. Trying to picture what will result can help steer us in the right direction. "Evaluate the potential negative consequences of the overreaction and determine if it is worth it," says Dr. Barlow. "Weighing it out may deter the initial response and help you to find a better course of action/solution to the issue."
A little empathy can go a long way. "Empathize with that person," says Dr. Barlow. "Don't personalize it; see the other individual’s viewpoint in the situation and try to take a step back. Maybe someone is having a bad day or issues in their personal life that are inflating the situation. If we keep that in mind and don’t make it about us, it can help us avoid an overreaction."
Something as simple as breathing can help calm you down and allow you to make better decisions. "Take a deep breath and tell yourself this is showing up to allow you to discharge this energy," Carol Tutle, CEO of Live Your Truth, LLC and author of Mastering Affluence: 6 Lessons to Create a Life You Love, tells Bustle. "Breathe out. Taking three to four deep breaths and consciously breathing oxygenates the brain to help you process the emotional overload."
Look At The Big Picture
When our emotions are running high, we tend to have tunnel vision, only thinking about the moment. "Step back and look the big picture," clinical psychologist Helen Odessky, Psy.D., tells Bustle. "If you have the luxury of thinking about it — it's probably not a life-threatening, immediate emergency. In that case, take a few moments and ask yourself — is this going to matter to me in three months, a year, five years? Taking this time perspective grounds us and helps us not overreact."
Use A Calming Mantra
Using a calming mantra can help center you and ground you when your emotions are running haywire. "If you find that someone’s comments or behaviors are getting to you, take a time out," clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly tells Bustle. "Then find a quiet place where you can close your eyes and repeat a positive mantra. For example, if you are angry and feel like screaming at someone who has been rude, leave the situation as quickly as possible. Then, simply repeat a calming mantra such as, 'I am in charge of my emotions. I do feel angry right now, and I can let it go. I won’t let someone’s behavior negatively affect me. I am in charge of my reactions.'"
Sometimes, we let our emotions get the best of us. But if you work to have some control over your mental state, you can learn to react more positively in difficult situations.