In my professional life (in personal life as well) I have seen people often develop a tendency to sudden burst out or display overreaction to a situation. They probably believe, until they overreact nobody will listen to them. With due apology, I admit that, I also had shown overreaction in many occasions in past.

In one scenario, I have seen during a creative discussion, people in authority position prefer to speak more, rather than listening to others point of view. As a consequence, many noteworthy points, which could otherwise have added value to the discussion, gets unpicked and the net result comes out less good. So, in course of time, people with less authority either stops opening up their mouth with great unhappiness             (internal overreaction) or in a worst case scenario, starts overreacting externally in order to draw attention. Both of the situations are not desirable for a team work.

However, we can’t control others, but we can control ourselves. We need to know that either psychologically or sociologically, an ‘overreaction’ does more harm than benefit. Though at times, depending on the demand of the situation, a conscious and measured ‘overreaction’ is not a bad idea, but when it became a habit and an integral part of our behavioral pattern, then it could be a cause of concern.

‘Balance’ is the key characteristic of this universe. Our complete existence is placed and playing role in a complete balanced manner. Whenever or wherever the balance tends to get out, existence gets in to danger. Similarly, in our interpersonal interactions, a balanced approach is extremely necessary. Be it interaction with the powerful people, equals or people with less power, we preferably need to have a good control over our reactions.I have realized the fact that at some point of time or other, all of us overreact to the issues, without even noticing it. Issues could be significant or trifle that doesn’t matter, but I am sure, overreaction seldom resolve it with measurable benefits.

So, it is better that, whenever we find ourselves getting very angry, emotionally upset or getting unnecessarily defensive on any issue, we try to pause for a while and think: Is there a better way available to address the situation in order to resolve it more effectively? Believe me, it is all about our emotional status and we can control it very well, if we practice. I admit that getting upset and overreact to a situation is okay in occasions to get a better result. But like driving a car at a high speed -it is safe till the time the steering wheel is under control, otherwise it is disastrous- overreaction is also a problem when we do it more than necessary. 

Now, who will tell me how much is necessary? It is me only. My personal experience says, whenever I had overreacted, I could make it out most of the times almost immediately, rest of the times after cooling down. This fact helped me in retuning my behavior in a future event and I am prone make less mistakes now a days. I have realized that people hate overreactions and sometimes they even express their disapprovals upfront (happened with me).Particularly, when people sit in a position of power or command, people tend to overreact in many forms during interaction with the subordinates or peers. They want to show their authority without understanding that the team or people in front may not like it. They may not speak it out but eventually the position of respect in their mind will get diminished. No real leader will ever want this situation to happen.

In my four decades of social and professional life, I have witnessed numerous times, that ‘overreaction’ never made any situation better, if not made it worser. In today’s complex life scenario, we are always exposed to some amount of ‘stress’ and this very well can cause an emotional imbalance and subsequent overreaction with a smallest ‘trigger’ at some point of time. Though, this behavior might release our tension for that particular moment, but we need to remember that it can’t solve the real cause of our ‘stress’ and on the other hand can create more stress and anxiety for a longer time. For example, I would recall a story, I read long back and can’t recall the source now. The story tells like this:

Once a father saw his 4 years old son was playfully making scratches on the paint of the newly bought car. Probably the father was under some kind of stress and this incident triggered a bursting out anger within him. He violently came down and pulled the son away from the car and next, he pounded the small hands of the poor boy with a mechanic’s hammer as a punishment. Both hands got crushed beyond repair and finally got amputated.Very sad and shocking, but could be a real story. We act like this many time in our life and get saved through a ‘near miss’ situation. Psychologists says that habitual overreaction also causes frustration and depression in an adverse life situation.

Mechanism of Overreaction

Overreaction are of two types external and internal.

So far what we are discussing is called External Overreaction. This type of overreaction is visible to all. People will shout, scream, throw hands, pound on table, walk out of the meeting room or do similar kind of untoward gestures when something is not going as per their wish.On the other hand,Internal Overreaction occurs within a person, it is the emotional outcome and not visible to others. It is more damaging to self, as it goes on for a long time within a person. For example, when I get scolded by my boss for something and I fill it is unjustified, the entire situation replays in my mind repeatedly throughout the day or even for weeks, wondering what was my fault, why the things happened this way to me, why it always happening only with me etc. I recreate the situation in my mind and play it mentally favoring my side repeatedly. Sometimes, this trigger to an external overreaction in a coming event, irrespective of its link with the previous situation. Is it not awfully bad? Yes, it harms us in many ways.

How to understand that I have developed a habit of overreacting? Judith P. Siegel, PhD, LCSW, in her book ‘Stop Overreacting- Effective Strategies for Calming Your Emotions’ suggesting to ask couple of questions to asses it.

  1. Do I frequently repent for my words uttered in a hot situation?
  2. Do I frequently feel an urge to apologies for my words or actions?
  3. Do I frequently get surprised internally looking at my reaction to a situation?
  4. Do I frequently withdraw myself from a situation that is not falling in line with my idea?
  5. Do I frequently try to physically assault somebody in the hit of emotion?
  6. Do I frequently exaggerate a situation or opinion of people that is not as per my expectation?

If the answers are affirmative, then I may have developed a habit of overreacting. Now, how to come out of this harmful habit? With a conscious and continuous effort, it is possible to tame this unpleasant habit. There are couple of practices needs to be followed in order to achieve this:

  1. Deep breath before responding: When I get tempted to pass a high pitch or abrasive comment, I will stop for a moment. Will take a deep breath and then respond. It will surely help to dose down my internal anger or anxiety and externally will improve the situation in hand to arrive in a better solution.
  2. Retuning of emotional status: It is possible to get control over the emotion with a practice. So, before a meeting or discussion or conflict handling, I will clean my ‘emotional slate’ from any residue of any other previous events. Retune my mind and try to acquire inputs event wise and control emotional influence of any kind. 
  3. Monitoring of self-physical changes and master a control over it: There is always some physical manifestation of our emotions. Stiffing neck, increased heart bit, pitting stomach, numbness in hands etc. are the signs, that tells me that I am going get emotionally hijacked and will overreact. A consciousness about these phenomena can trigger the brain to control overreaction.
  4. Not neglecting physical needs: Hunger, thirst and deprived sleep can have adverse effect on my emotional status and I may get irritate easily and overreact. Overwork and lack of mental refreshment can also have a similar impact on my behavior. Therefore, I need to take care of these needs, prior to get in to any interpersonal interaction in order to control any potential overreaction.

Finally, the more we are able to control our overreaction, more it is beneficial for our Physical, Mental and Interpersonal health.