Emotions are a pivotal part of the human experience. We cry, laugh, smile, grieve, and yell all because of emotions. Emotions are what make fictional stories so captivating. If you’ve never cried over the death of a fictional character, then you have never experienced peak fiction. (R.I.P. Brigadier General Maes Hughes, Portgas D. Ace, Jiraiya Sensei, Kamina, and every other GOAT we’ve lost along the way.) All this to say, emotions aren’t bad; however, they can be destructive when we are reactive to them instead of responsive. Here are a few tips on how to stop being emotionally reactive and be emotionally responsive instead.
What Is Emotional Reactivity?
As the term self-explains, being emotionally reactive means being reactive to our internal emotional state or condition. The reactivity cycle usually goes like this: Feel some kind of emotion + React to how I’m feeling + Enter fight or flight = Survival-based decision making. Being emotionally reactive usually leads to impulsive decision-making that ultimately doesn’t help us in the long run. And the more impulsive survival decision-making you are forced to do, the more you feed into the reactivity cycle. I don’t know about you, but more stress does not make my life any easier to manage.
What Is Emotional Responsiveness?
Being emotionally responsive means allowing ourselves to feel our emotions, name them, view them as something separate from ourselves, and respond to our emotions instead of letting them be the driving force behind our decisions and behavior. So instead of letting your emotions dictate how you live your life and react to things, you can take ownership of them without letting them consume you. Seems easy enough on paper, but when in doubt, use R.A.I.N.
- Recognize you are having an emotion
- Allow the experience, don’t correct, accept
- Investigate, don’t judge the origin of the feeling
- Nurture yourself, give self-love/encouragement
We All Have Our Struggles
I’m not someone who feels emotions super deeply daily. My “rollercoaster” of emotions is pretty flatlined. There are good days and bad days, for sure, but I don’t get angry or super sad very easily. I’m not one to cry over small inconveniences like some might. (Not saying I’m better than those who do, just not how I react to things.) However, I am incredibly anxious. I overthink everything to the point of staying up well past my bedtime most nights. I used to let fear dictate my life. Fear of tearing my A.C.L. for the third time, fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of disappointing my mom consumed me to the point that it dictated everything that I did.
One of my favorite quotes is, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is a little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has passed, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain” from Frank Herbert’s Dune. I have the first sentence tattooed on my right forearm. It’s a reminder not to let emotions and fear dictate my life. Instead of letting the fear drive me to emotional reactivity, I learned to become emotionally responsive. Fear interrupts processes in the brain, impacting our thinking and decision-making, leading to impulsive reactions. Trust me. It’s hard to follow your gut and think things through when fear plays the irrational devil on your shoulder. Learning how to stop being emotionally reactive took some time and work, but it has made my life all the better.
Tips On How To Stop Being Emotionally Reactive
- The Art of the Pause: Take a moment and pause before you emotionally react to something. With some practice, you can train your brain to do this as a reaction to intense emotional feelings, but the first few times will be hard.
- Feel Sensations: Usually, with big and small emotions, our bodies react in some ways: our hearts beat faster, our palms get sweaty (mom’s spaghetti?), clenching of the stomach, or maybe we start to fidget. Take notice of how your body reacts so that when you are in the middle of intense emotions, you aren’t overwhelmed with your natural bodily reaction.
- Take Deep Breaths: I swear, most things in my life can be dealt with after I take a few deep breaths. Taking deep breaths can trick our brains into sending signals of safety. They also help relax your body in those tense moments.
- Let It All Go: This is the one I struggle with the most. Let yourself release all the emotions. Cry, shake, go to the gym, move around a bit, and let out all the pent-up energy. Moving, crying, or releasing it all helps rebalance your nervous system.
- Respond: Instead of impulsively reacting to emotions, choose how you will respond. Sometimes that means taking some space to mull over your options before deciding.