If you find yourself lashing out at others or having too many negative emotional reactions, don’t beat yourself up. You’re not the only one.
I used to be way more sensitive to the words and actions of others. And being sensitive isn’t a bad thing. I just took it too far. When people would say things directed toward me (usually joking), I’d get defensive with them, or over analyze what they meant.
I also have a family history of taking things too personal, so these behaviors were taught to me at an early age. That also made it a little difficult to change those behaviors in myself.
I’ve also had many leaders that just didn’t prioritize their mental and spiritual health. Then both me and the rest of their team would pay the price of their outbursts, lashing out, and more.
We all have an impact
Whether we’re a leader, influencer, parent, or something else, we all have an impact. Our words, actions, and behaviors cause ripple effects. When we lash out at our team, that plants a seed of future distrust. When our stress makes us overly critical of our kids, that plants bad seeds in the relationship.
Our mental health plays a key role in all of the seeds we plant around us.
Yes, sometimes we need to lovingly confront our kids, team, followers, and coworkers. But when we’re stressed or overwhelmed, we are much less likely to actually do it lovingly.
When we’re stressed and overwhelmed, we also exaggerate the faults of others. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes people really do say or do things that need called out. Those situations are justified.
But sometimes we may feel justified, but we’re really not. Sometimes our stress and poor mental health causes us to lash out at others when they don’t deserve it.
Like a cup, our minds have a limited capacity. When we’re maxed out, we make a mess.
The solution is simple, but not always easy
My goal here is to show you how to avoid being emotionally triggered and overreacting to begin with. Managing your emotions during and after a triggering event is another topic.
We have to prioritize our mental health in order to make a positive impact on people, plant better seeds, and not overreact emotionally to others.
- Get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis
- Feed your body good nutrition
- Reduce stress with prayer and meditation
- Reduce stressors like content overwhelm, comparison, fear-of-missing-out (FOMO), toxic people, social media, and overthinking
- Track your emotional triggers in a journal
A good night’s sleep is a super-underrated key of great emotional resilience.
If you’re like me, you can track many times when you lash out at others, overreact, or treat others poorly, and poor sleep was to blame.
If you haven’t noticed sleep being the cause of poor emotional reactions in your life, sleep just might be the common cause!
When I’m well-rested, it’s amazing much more resilient I am to the actions and words of others. It’s like water rolling off a duck’s back.
There are a few essential ingredients for great sleep:
- A comfortable pillow and mattress
- A dark room (light triggers hormones in your body to change to a “waking” state)
- A cool room temperature
- Minimal alcohol (alcohol has devastating effects on your REM and deep sleep)
- No caffeine after noon (or you could be too antsy to fall asleep)
- Focus on your big toe (stick with me on this!)
- Minimize stress and anxiety
Ok on the big toe thing (that one came out of left field, right?). Seriously, when you lay down to go to sleep, start focusing on your big toe, and your big toe only.
This is actually a form of meditation that clears your mind of things that make you antsy. You’re essentially letting go of all your stresses, worries, and anxieties, and instead focusing on your big toe. This helps clear your mind so you’re better able to fall asleep. Try it!
Poor nutrition causes stress, anxiety, and even depression. Eating well all comes down to:
- Eating foods that reduce inflammation
- Avoiding foods that cause inflammation
- Keeping a healthy weight
In general that means you need to:
- Eat whole, unprocessed foods
- Eat vegetables and fruits
- Eat organic, grass-fed, and cage-free meat and eggs
- Avoid carcinogenic (cancer-causing) foods like processed meats and alcohol
- Avoid processed foods and especially foods with hydrogenated vegetable oils (like french fries). Vegetable oils are like setting off tiny little chemical bombs in your body (R)
If you have a poor diet, try overhauling it for a day or two and see how you feel. It makes a difference!
Reduce stress with prayer and meditation
When we’re stressed or emotionally unhealthy, we’re more likely to lash out at others or treat others poorly. This is partially because of the body’s fight or flight mechanism. When we’re stressed, we’re wired to react, not be patient and considerate.
Prayer and meditation helps us reduce that stress so we can be less reactive, and treat others better.
In order to be less emotionally reactive, you only need to learn one simple spiritual practice:
- Let go
- Contemplate God
“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not.”– Richard Rohr
I treat this process more completely in another article, but really the process is quite simple.
For a Christian, true meditation and prayer involves letting go of what doesn’t need to be there, and instead meditating on who God is – His infinite love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, and wisdom.
“Real prayer comes not from gritting our teeth but from falling in love.”Richard Foster
The process of letting go of our worries, cares, anxieties, stresses, and negative emotions can take a while. Sometimes they are so attached to us that it takes quite a bit of repetitive effort to pry them off.
But over and over, little by little, replace what burdens you with what will lift you up – The presence of God. “Gaze” on who God is in “silent love” (R).
His love will start to replace what doesn’t need to be there. That helps become more peaceful, loving, kind, joyful, patient…and slow to react emotionally to others.
So far I have shown you how to cope with stress so we don’t overreact so often. But there are also ways to control how many stressors we allow in our lives in the first place.
It seems like nowadays there are an infinite number of stressors in life – work, kids, politics, money, marriage, your to-do list, and more. All of these stressors can ruin our mental health, making us more likely to overreact emotionally to others.
Sometimes there is not much we can do about these stressors. Life will be stressful sometimes. To completely avoid stress in life isn’t realistic.
That being said, we can still limit stress: Limit how much you watch the news, take a break from the kids or spouse, or make a budget to help with money stress (yeah making a budget might be a little stressful, but reduces stress in the long run).
Ah, the joys of “modern life”
Other stressors to be mindful of are uniquely 21st century: Social media, content overwhelm, comparison, and fear of missing out (FOMO).
Studies show that social media can have pretty nasty effects on our mental health. (R)
Social media can make us feel inadequate by comparing ourselves too much to others, for instance. It’s also overstimulating, which eventually turns our brains to mush, and gives us fear of missing out (FOMO). All no bueno.
Another thing – Content overwhelm:
- Over 2 million scientific papers are published every year (R)
- Over 4 million blog posts are published every day (R)
- Over 5,000 news articles are published in the US every day (R)
- Close to 1 million books are published every year (R)
And that’s not including how many social media posts and podcasts are published every day. We think we need to stay caught up on all of it (FOMO), but that ends up just stressing us out.
I know many people who use their commute time to listen to podcasts. That can be great, if you do it in a balanced way. But most people I know that constantly consume content like podcasts in all waking hours are more stressed and emotionally reactive.
Consuming too much content can rob us of precious silent, meditative, and contemplative time that could be used to get emotionally centered.
I personally used to listen to podcasts during my commute every day, but found that it was just stressing me out. That made me more reactive, and less patient, kind, and joyful. I now use that time to listen to meditative music and pray. It makes a big difference!
- Leave your phone in another room regularly
- Use the Do Not Disturb feature on your phone
Whether for a night or a whole day, take breaks from your phone. Leave it in another room so you’re not constantly bombarded by texts, notifications, or phone calls.
Track your emotional triggers in a journal
If you’ve applied all the tactics I’ve mentioned but are still getting triggered too often, try journaling.
Journaling in general is critical for staying spiritually and emotionally centered. It’s also an amazing tool to help us understand our triggers.
If we find ourselves overreacting emotionally on a regular basis, start writing out what could be causing that. Maybe there are some recent stressors you hadn’t realized were affecting you. Or maybe there was something traumatic growing up that affects how you interpret the words and actions of others.
Whatever the case may be, sometimes you can’t really understand your “emotional weather” until you write about it.
“Writing for yourself is a powerful search mechanism: there’s no better way to find out who you are and what you know and what you think.”William Zinsser, On Writing Well
Overreacting emotionally to others is not fun. It can be embarrassing and even make us feel ashamed. Emotions are healthy, but not when they hurt others. I hope this article helps you become more centered so you become less reactive.