How To Overcome Emotional Reactivity And Build Emotional Stability

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated June 23, 2022

Every human being experiences emotions. For the most part, we can handle them reasonably well. Said a different way, most people have adequate emotion regulation. For some, however, control may seem impossible. That is, they are more emotionally reactive. They may lash out at others or explode when something angers or upsets them. As you can imagine, being emotionally reactive may make personal and intimate relationships challenging to maintain. To lead a better quality of life, we must learn to regulate our emotions and improve our relationship with them. With the right help, you can learn how to better control your emotions, avoid exploding, and improve your emotion regulation.

To help you get started on the path toward better emotional regulation, here is a guide on how to overcome emotional reactivity and build emotional stability. Seeking help from an online therapist is also a great resource for learning how to deal with emotions. 

What Is Emotional Reactivity?

How can we define emotional reactivity? Emotional reactivity refers to a tendency toward a response that is negative and exceeds what is needed for the expression of your feelings. If you are emotionally reactive in situations that spark anger or other emotions that have a negative impact on you, you will already know what this problem of being emotionally reactive looks like. However, some people may believe that they are acting reasonably or defending themselves against someone. They may believe they have good emotion regulation. To truly see this behavior for what it is, we have to see maladaptive emotional reactions from the outside. You have to see your actions for what they actually are in a rational way. 

 

For example, let’s imagine that you are in a relationship. Your partner is upset about something that you have done or said. In an instant, you are already fuming. At this point, your negative emotional reactivity begins. You begin yelling at your partner and defending yourself with things that they may have said or done in the past. At this point, the fight is either going to continue until an apology is made or someone walks away.

The above is just an example of emotional reactivity that you may see in all areas of your life. Those who know how to regulate their emotions will accept the criticism, try to understand the other person’s point of view, and process the feelings that they may be feeling as a result. However, those who are emotionally reactive and don’t have sufficient emotion regulation will immediately be triggered by things that upset them. This form of reaction will cause them to overreact and cause more harm than good.

To continue with this behavior can make it hard to form and maintain close relationships. The emotional reactivity combined with the broken relationships can then exacerbate the negative emotions that you may be currently experiencing. The key to creating a change from emotional reactivity to emotion regulation begins with altering your current behavior so that you can act more appropriately in the future. But how can you get started working toward emotion regulation? Here are some emotion regulation strategies to help you avoid increased reactivity.

6 Tips For Overcoming Emotional Reactivity And Controlling Your Emotions 

  1. Walk Away From Situations That Challenge You Before You Have An Opportunity to React

If you know that you are prone to emotional reactions, walking away from a situation before it has a chance to spark a reaction is one method to use to avoid exploding. Although this may not be a realistic solution for every situation, it gives you a chance to calm down before you can react. During this breakaway period, you can focus on your thoughts, take a moment to work through the feelings and return to the situation with a better response and improved emotion regulation. It will take some time to develop this skill. But once you have it down, you have a better way to regulate your emotions before they are expressed in a more harmful manner through emotional reactivity.

  1. Find Relaxation Exercises That Can Help You Calm Down When You Feel Like Reacting

Taking time to slow down when you are ready to react impulsively with emotional reactivity can help you collect your thoughts and cool down. For example, if someone says something to you that makes you angry, instead of giving in to emotional reactivity, choosing to engage in a deep breathing exercise to calm yourself down can be a useful tool for better emotion regulation. Deep breathing is not the only exercise available for avoiding emotional reactivity, but when learning emotion regulation strategies, it can be a great place to start. Whatever serves to make you feel more relaxed when you are feeling especially reactive, use it to your advantage in your challenges with emotional reactivity. With practice, emotion regulation may come much more easily.

  1. Cultivate A Greater Awareness Around Your Thoughts To Improve Emotion Regulation

When we are used to reacting with emotional reactivity, we don’t often take the time to understand how we go from listening to react. For example, if someone says something to you, the next step may be to respond in the best way you know how – with emotional reactivity. However, reacting doesn’t have to be the response. Instead, you can practice cognitive reappraisal of the situation. Make a mental note that you can reach for emotion regulation. You can listen to your thoughts when you feel like you will react impulsively to something or notice the signs of emotional reactivity within you. Ask yourself questions as you feel unpleasant emotions. Why does the emotion bother you? What are the consequences of reacting to the thing or the emotion that is bothering you? Is there a better way to respond besides emotional reactivity? After all, emotion regulation doesn’t mean getting rid of emotions. It just means changing the way you respond to negative emotions. Learning how your thoughts contribute to your action is the first step in creating change away from emotional reactivity and toward better emotional regulation. This cognitive reappraisal process may take time to master, but when you achieve it, it is well worth the effort.

 

One great way to start seeing the emotional reactivity in your thoughts is by journaling. After you react, write down the situation and your reaction. Then, evaluate the situation, look for signs, and figure out how you may have responded with decreased emotion at the moment. Consider how you would react if you had better emotion regulation. Would you react impulsively or make a different choice? What emotion regulation strategies would you use? How would you achieve your best emotional regulation? Thinking about these questions can play a moderating role and help you react less emotionally.

You may also want to engage in exercises like mindfulness meditation to improve your emotional regulation. This is one of the emotion regulation strategies that can help you learn how to let thoughts pass as they come and see thoughts objectively rather than reacting and getting caught up in emotional reactivity. The more you do understand your thoughts, the better suited you will be to change them once they start turning into a reaction. Then, you will be on your way to more effective emotion regulation.

  1. Learn More About Your Triggers And How You Can Overcome Them

Certain things can trigger us and cause a reaction contrary to good emotion regulation. For example, let’s continue with the example of emotional reactivity from earlier in the article. Let’s imagine that your partner says something to you about your appearance. While your partner didn’t intend to offend you, you immediately react impulsively in response and become agitated. The problem here isn’t necessarily because of what they’ve said but how you’ve reacted to it. In this situation, the emotional reactivity trigger may be that you’re insecure about your appearance.

Now that you are more aware that this is an emotional reactivity issue for you, you can begin working on that problem so that it doesn’t cause a reaction. Then, when someone says something, you can accept it and work through it rather than react, and you can gain emotion regulation. Understanding what triggers us into emotional reactivity and how to respond appropriately can yield better results for everyone.

An easy way to get started on learning your emotional reactivity triggers is to keep an emotion regulation diary. Make a note of the incident, your thoughts, feelings, and actions in response. Did you practice emotional regulation? What stopped you from responding with enough emotion regulation? Take a mental note to remember that self reported emotional reactivity could help you move more quickly in therapy. Also, a counselor only helps you with your informed consent so that you are the center of the therapy process. You make decisions along the way about how to manage your challenges.

Maintaining this emotion diary takes a few minutes a day and can help you identify patterns. Also, if you choose to pursue therapy to help with this issue of emotional reactivity, presenting this emotion diary to your therapist can give you both some insight! The note application on your cell phone can be a wonderful tool for making this happen, and you will have it with you whenever emotional reactivity happens as well as when you respond with excellent emotion regulation. Because you brought in notes for self reported emotional reactivity, your therapist knows more about where to start helping you with your emotion dysregulation.

  1. Don’t Make Assumptions About What Other People May Mean

Another excellent lesson to take away from the above example is to not make assumptions. Remember, false assumptions can bring up emotion needlessly. Many of us are prone to misinterpreting what others have to say. That is often when you need emotion regulation most, but understanding what is really happening can also help boost your emotion regulation. When we make assumptions, we can respond the wrong way, with emotional reactivity, which can make it harder for others to communicate with us. The key to effective communication is to learn why others say what they do. When someone says something that causes you to feel an emotion like feeling hurt or angry and leads you to emotional reactivity, take the time to figure out why they said it. Give yourself enough time for emotion regulation, especially if you have emotion dysregulation issues and are new to working on emotion regulation. Chances are that they are simply trying to remedy a problem or bring your awareness to something. However, when we become emotionally reactive, it can shut them down and make it harder to communicate in the future.

Practicing active listening can help you discover what the person really means before the emotion becomes too strong to manage. Listening has a moderating effect on your emotion, in other words. Active listening involves paying attention to the other person’s words but also their body language, expressions, and tone of voice. Active listening means going beyond what you hear. Ask questions for clarification and reflect back to them everything they said to be sure you understand correctly. Then, show empathy for their position or situation before you react. Remember, with careful examination generally you can choose better responses.

Practice active listening, process, and then respond with good emotion regulation. When you do this, you may learn that there are a lot of encounters that do not warrant anger. What’s more, the intense and frequent emotional reactivity can subside, and emotional regulation can take its place.

  1. Look For Healthy Ways To Release Your Emotions

A lot of people believe that the key to getting rid of anger and the accompanying emotional reactivity is by suppressing and ignoring it. Unfortunately, anger doesn’t go away. Instead, those emotions will remain bottled up until there is no more room to store them. Then, you may end up reacting again! Instead, find ways to cope with your anger and let it out. You can do that without switching to emotional reactivity. Some emotion regulation strategies include:

 
  • Working out or engaging in any other physical exercise that can help you release this energy and calm down
  • Screaming into a pillow
  • Writing down your emotions in a journal so that they are allowed to be let out
  • Crushing ice cubes or other items (but make sure that you are not being destructive and destroying things that you need)
  • Hitting a punching bag to express angry emotions

Of course, you can also find ways to deal with anger that may distract you from the emotion and improve your mood as well. These are also good strategies for emotion regulation. For example, doing things like creating art, engaging in a favorite hobby, or dancing around are great ways to process anger as well. With good emotion regulation, you can use your emotional responses in positive ways – even your negative emotions can benefit you and others when you use them in arts, crafts, and exercise. Rather than emotional reactivity, you enjoy a pleasant pastime. Instead of negative reactivity, you create something

Make a mental note now that if you have emotional reactions, the idea isn’t to suppress your emotions. Instead, you should be focused on learning more about emotional reactivity, your emotions, how to process them, and what you can do to avoid outbursts in the future. Emotional regulation can take time to practice and learn. That said, doing this on your own isn’t always easy. Sometimes, everyone needs a little help with emotional regulation, especially when they have the challenge of emotional reactivity.

Getting Started With The Right Help

Although we would like to solve issues like emotional reactivity on our own, we could all use a little guidance to move toward emotion regulation. This is especially true if this is your first time seeking out ways to improve your reactions to things around you. The good news is that there are resources out that can help you improve your emotional regulation. Mental health professionals can help you learn more about emotional reactivity, your emotions, your current behaviors, and what you can do to build better habits and cope with your emotions. They can teach you active listening and other helpful techniques. In short, a therapist can help you get past your emotional reactivity and go for improved emotional regulation.

For some, finding help with their emotional reactivity may be as simple as looking for therapists near you. For others, however, problems like time constraints or few local resources can get in the way. This is where online counseling platforms offer mental health solutions for people with emotional reactivity.

For example, BetterHelp is an online counseling resource that makes it easier to get in touch with a licensed therapist from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

Not everyone automatically has good emotional regulation. What’s more, emotional reactivity can cause many issues in life. However, you do not have to let your emotions rule you. Instead, use the tips provided above to learn more about emotional reactivity, why you react, and how you can start managing your emotions. Over time and with patience, you will be able to handle emotional reactions without emotional reactivity interfering with daily life.

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