I have had several conversations lately with people regarding noticing feeling more reactive and sensing that others seem to feel or appear more reactive as well. What I mean by this is responding more emotionally or intensely to a stimuli than what one might assume would be the usual response. Often, it is a fight or flight kind of reaction. We feel triggered and our body is telling us we need to react. I tend to get more reactive when I have a higher stress day. And, in honor of transparency, my grace-filled husband is usually the person who gets the ‘bite’ from me when I am in that space. What does it look like for you, when you feel reactive?
Especially given the stressors in our current world and the stressors we experience day to day in our normal routine, it is understandable that our emotional capacity might seem more limited, and we become, perhaps, more reactive. When this happens, I believe it is important for us to hold in our awareness, both giving ourselves some grace and understanding (practicing self-compassion), however also doing our part to take care and responsibility of ourselves and others. In efforts of this, my hope is that we are not causing more stress and hurt by responding to others in our reactive states.
When you are feeling more reactive what might help you slow your response down? I want to propose some strategies that can help, however I am curious to hear if anyone else has tools/tips/tricks that work well for you? Here are some of my thoughts on ways that we can slow down our fight/flight reactivity:
- Have you heard the saying the best intervention is prevention?
I know it’s cliché, but there is a reason it’s said as often as it is. For myself, prevention looks like making sure I’m setting time in my routine to do the ‘boring’ self-care. For me this might include going to bed at a good time, having some quiet space to check in with how I’m doing/what went well or not well in the day (how did that impact me?), eating well, drinking water, getting exercise and fresh air, connecting with my husband, playing with my dogs, etc.
- Knowing your boundaries, limits, or your capacity
Sometimes, there are just certain situations and scenarios that can be a particular trigger point for us. Are certain conversation topics or relational experiences especially triggering to you? Do conversations around budgeting cause you to feel more defensive? Does your child back-talking or rolling their eyes make you feel powerless? Having an understanding of what your triggers are, why it’s triggering you, and preparing yourself well with this knowledge, to plan for those sorts of situations ahead of time, can help you to know what you can do to respond more effectively when they come up. It can also help if you are able to define your limits and when you might need to ‘tap out’ and regulate or get some space to prevent a reactive response.
- Using Assertive Communication—and practicing this ahead of time
Assertive communication sounds so simple, but it can be really hard to use especially when we need to use it the most. On a communication spectrum, we have aggressive communication (this might include our tone having that bite to it, our facial expression, or using hurtful words, etc.) and passive communication (overly assuming responsibility, apologizing frequently, etc.). When I am reactive, I am using aggressive communication. My tone is harsher and my words are sharper, I like to describe that it has that ‘bite’ to it. It is hard to use assertive communication in instances when we are feeling more emotionally charged or reactive, especially if we are not practicing using it when regulated. Expressing “I am feeling X, when you do Y.” is a good place to start when needing to express ourselves. It also helps others to have an understanding about what is impacting us. It can feel really vulnerable to express ourselves honestly. It can also help to safely enable discussions surrounding difficult or harder topics with those close to us.
- Using Regulating Strategies to Ground Yourself
I really like to use sensory regulating strategies. Grounding with your 5 senses, having a fidget item in hand, focusing on deep breathing, chewing gum, etc. If needing to physically regulate your body, countering the feelings of weightiness that we carry can be supported with doing more buoyant activities such as swimming or taking a bath. Keep an eye on how your engine is running (is my engine running low, running well, or running high?). If you can keep yourself grounded and in a moderately regulated state through a trigger, you’re doing a lot of really great grounding work! It is also okay if you know you have a limit, and are getting too heated—try some assertive communication to express that you need space to cool down and will come back to the situation when feeling calm.
- Plan some fun in your life!
Especially when things feel stressful, we all need a break at different points. Did you know that when children are laughing and in play their brain can’t also be in fight or flight mode? While I know this about children, I feel this is pretty true about adults as well. Plan something that allows you to let loose and feel lighter. Take a break from the heavy and come back to it when you are feeling a little more at ease.
May we take responsibility to care for ourselves well, and responding to our reactiveness with curiosity and empathy, moving through it with compassion for ourselves and those around us.
Feel free to comment below what works for you and visit this blog post for 10 additional stress and anxiety reducer ideas.
The information contained herein is not therapeutic advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255).