Are You Reactive?
Of course you are. We all are. But just how highly charged are your reactions? It depends, right? What we react to, and the degree to where we take it, has an immeasurable impact on our central nervous system and overall adeptness in handling our shit. It really does run that deep, and it’s easier than you might believe to adjust the scale. The most important thing to remember is we’re all in this together. So if right now, you’ve identified yourself as a person prone to over-reacting, no worries! Everyone does this, at least occasionally, and we can help each other.
Behavior is typically learned. I say typically, because we all possess innate behaviors that came with our hardwiring. Ever seen a laid back baby? Me too, I love them! The art of being chill, especially when shit goes down is admirable. It’s unpleasant to be around someone who’s freaking out. So why do we do it?
Stress is a key factor. Even the coolest of the cool can unravel if life gets too crazy. No one has it together 100 percent of the time. If your car breaks down, and you get fired from your job, plus contract bronchitis, well damn, you might lose it a little. Most adults can handle the daily life stressors with maturity and perspective. But when things get out of hand, an unraveling will undoubtedly occur. It’s easy (in retrospect) to realize it didn’t do any good to have a temper-tantrum, but in the moment, it’s understandable to simply react, especially when we don’t stop to evaluate ourselves.
Entitlement is one of the manifestations of gratitude’s opposite.
If you generally believe you’re owed something, and you should never have to deal with even the smallest of inconveniences, then it’s pretty challenging to be grateful. This mindset encourages a disproportionate reaction when things go even slightly south.
Habit might be the very biggest culprit of them all. I’ve seen a grown man shriek because he dropped a paper plate. If it’s your common practice to react to everything, it becomes a formidable muscle, one that needs to atrophy. We can learn and unlearn so much. We have the power to question our beliefs, and release the stronghold of thoughts—even those that we’ve had for so long that they feel as true as our own names. Thoughts are what lead us to behave in various ways. Without the thought, “I’m so angry,” the action describing that feeling never comes to fruition.
What is your usual reaction to stress? If it’s self-destructive, replacing that go-to thinking and subsequent behavior with yoga, running, singing, talking to a trusted friend, or doing anything you enjoy may not only shorten the time you feel stressed, but counteract the chemical imbalances that happen when stress becomes overwhelming. Developing self-talking points helps too. When I broke my leg and needed crutches for over three months, my constant mantra was, “This is temporary.” Even if it’s not a temporary situation, the extremity of your feelings are, and will eventually alter. This applies even to something as tragic as death. But in the throes of emotion, it’s quite difficult to remember this.
If you habitually overreact to small things, get determined. Develop a game plan, visualizing a situation you can see yourself irrationally handling, and replace the vision with your new reaction. See yourself being calm, asking questions, breathing, or recognizing it’s no big deal, and to treat it as such is a disservice to yourself.
Gratitude is the overwhelming salve if you observe yourself constantly reacting to unsatisfying things, people, and occurrences. Someone once told me whenever she’s running late, and traffic is being less than cooperative, she tells herself if she had just made that last light, maybe she’d have found herself in a car accident. Maybe missing the light saved her. If a relationship ends, one you feel a deep attachment to, instead of focusing on what you’ve lost, instead direct your attention to what you’ve gained.
The next time you feel yourself go into reactionary mode, ask yourself these questions:
- Is it worth it?
- Will getting upset change anything for the better?
- What next thought and subsequent action will help?
There’s a prevailing belief that change is hard. And often we don’t recognize that almost every action and reaction is a choice. When we don’t achieve our desired outcomes, making the choice to do it differently is ultimately easier than repeating what we’ve always done with little to no success. Over-reactionary behavior does make sense because we’d all love a little more control over others, situations, and our environments. But the only thing we can ultimately control is ourselves. If you can see this to as comforting and inspiring news, then you’re well on your way to an easier existence.
By Lara Falberg
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