How do I know if I'm overreacting?
Last Updated: 11/05/2021 at 3:48pm
Evelyn Coker, MSW, LCSW
Clinical Social Work/Therapist
I am down to earth and enjoy working with all clients. I have a special passion to support teen girls and women. My work is nonjudgmental and provides a safe space to grow.
Top Rated Answers
Before reacting, step back and ask yourself what the worst part of the situation is. Ask yourself whether it will matter a day, week, month, year from now. Try placing yourself in their position, and think of how you'd expect others to react. Take deep breaths and try to ask yourself what really bothers you about the situation?
I order for you to know if that's the case, first I'd suggest you be mindful of your thoughts and see if you are committing one of these fallacies: -Mind reading- you assume you know exactly what people think; -Mental Filter- you filter out anything that is good from your thoughts, seeing only the bad things; -Prediction- you assume you know the future; -Snowflake effect- you believe if something bad happens that will lead to more chaos, and that chaos will generate more chaos, and that chaos will create awful things, and you end up believing that if A happens Z will immediately be your destiny; -Catastrophizing- you believe always in the worst case cenario, not because you are certain that it is true, but rather because you are too afraid of living in the reality that you can't, in fact, know if your thoughts are necessarily true or not. There are lots of other fallacies you may fall into if you're not mindful enough of your thoughts.
You are the only one who can really tell if you are overreacting or not. Other people have no right to tell you whether you are reacting an appropriate amount. Other people are not you. If you find a lot of people are telling you that you're overreacting, that you're sensitive, or whatever along those lines, those people are toxic unsupportive voices, even if they seem to have good intentions. You deserve to be surrounded by people who love you and encourage your self-expression. It is normal and healthy to have reactions, feelings, and thoughts about things. We are humans and reactions are part of that. We cannot control what other people do, say, think, or how other people react - but we can control ourselves. With some acceptance that we do react, and some awareness of how we react, why react that way, what triggered that reaction and why that bothered us, can help. If we shine a light on our internal emotions, we can learn from them and learn how to use them in healthier and healthier ways. Good luck!
The concept of 'over reacting' is really told from a third person perspective - that is, from an objective point of view given any situation, if another person knows the same details, they would compare your reaction to your reaction, if they wouldn't react in the same way, they might consider it over reacting. The issue really is that we don't have an objective point of view when we're involved in the situation that's making us react - it's easier for a 3rd person to say "That's too much", when it's not really their argument, conflict or stresser. Generally speaking, if you feel wound up by something, wait a few seconds for the initial emotions to sink in, then take a deep breath and exhale slowly before you say anything. The deep breathing will give your head a chance to absorb what's happening and give your brain a chance to let the rational side 'kick in' and help look at the issue from a third person point of view. Take a step back emotionally before responding, put yourself in another person's shoes and picture what they feel might be an appropriate reaction.
First of all, I believe overreacting begins with imaginary thoughts that you believe "could" be true. I mean, assuming something that you can't really know. Ask yourself if your reaction is driven by the facts, or by the thoughts of what "could be" behind that fact. Overreacting always takes everything in the universe (I'm exagerating on purpose), all clues that point to one thing that makes you upset. Are you upset because a fact? Or are you upset because you thought something behind that fact and everything "seems to be connected"?
Charts can help a lot with pinpointing the source of emotions. Writing out what the situation was, what upset you, and how you reacted can be a great tool for exercising self-awareness.
The way I know I am overreacting is when I start to say things that are hurtful to people that I really don't mean.
I was trained to allow 3 days to subside before I respond to a 'charged' situation. By adopting the 3 day rule, the details of the 'charged' situation have the time to deepen within my mind and heart and I have been able to process the information from every direction. I notice that my response on day 3 is much different than the raw reaction I held on day 1. I have never regretted allowing 3 days to pass before my response. Then the 'overreacting' does not become and issue at all.
Every time something that makes you feel bad happens, try to imagine yourself from other point of view, and analyze if you are acting correctly. For example, someone said something non important, and didn't have in mind to offend you, instead it made you feel sad, angry, nervous. Try to imagine being in that someone's place, and understand that it really wasn't meant to be mean. It might be a good idea :)
Take a step back from the situation! Take some time, and when your emotions aren't as strong, think through the situation logically. Was your reaction based on emotions from other things going on in your life? Was your reaction more than the situation required? Asking questions like these, when you aren't as upset anymore, can help you clarify why you are feeling a certain way.
If yo are upset, take a step back, take a deep breath, and ask yourself if someone else was In the situation, how would you advise them to react. Taking yourself out of the equation, can sometimes give you a new perspective, and help you see a situation clearly.
For me, I never know until after the fact. Sometimes, even a day or a few days after the situation happens. I go back and reflect on the situation calmly, and then the revelation comes to me, or it doesn't. Usually if I did overreact, it'll hit me like a ton of bricks in the form of guilt. If it's something that can be fixed, I'll apologise. If it's something that can't be fixed, I'll own it. However, if I don't feel guilty, and don't look back and feel like there's something I could've done differently, I own it and feel confident that I reacted in the best way possible, regardless of what other people might say.
There is no such a thing as overreaction. Every reaction what we have has its perfectly clear reason based on past experience and traumatic events.
I try to take a big step back from the situation and reflect on it to determine if the issue is under my control or not. If it is, I can take steps to fix or lesson the pain from the issue. If the issue is not in my control, I am overreacting and must let the pain and discomfort from the issue go. For my personal way of dealing with this: I like writing about the not-controllable issue and then meditation. These two methods get the negative thoughts out of my head onto paper/screen, and then archive it away. If the uncontrollable issue is still bothering me, it's time to find a listener :)
To begin to feel much too angry and too shut down and too sad and as if one is imploding even if because you feel misunderstood... may be a sign of "overreaction." Effective communication often comes from a place of maintained openness and calmness and general positivity. By all means, we will and we may feel perplexed, a bit annoyed, a little bit on the side of furrowed eyebrows... but the whole idea, I think, that we should keep in mind... is that ultimately it's all about getting ideas across and even if you feel you cannot you must know that the gates to someone else's mind is entirely of their own access. Just as your mind is. Overreacting often doesn't feel good. And when do any of us truly not want to feel good? Our goal should be, perhaps, to make our point as best we can, listen as best we can, perhaps this one most importantly, and come to some kind of middle ground if either party feels they still disagree. Because in the end it's OK to and you should come away feeling OK.
That's really hard to tell sometimes, and I know it can feel like you're overreacting a lot or like you "should" be overreacting more than you are.. the only advice I can give you is to keep checking-in with yourself.. before you react (if you can!) take a second and count to 5, or 10 if you can), and then evaluate "is this an appropriate reaction?" ... if you answer "yes, this was a large problem" then you may well be justified in having a large reaction.. Just keep checking-in with yourself and being mindful of how you're reacting.. after you have a reaction do some self-reflection about the situation and ask yourself the same questions! Best of luck!!
This can be difficult as we all have different tolerance about how far can we follow how we feel. The important thing to do is to identify how we feel, are we reacting on sheer logical thinking or are we angry, upset, pissed, hurt, or even depressed? If we are reacting based on our feelings then we might very likely be overreacting. The right thing to do is to take some time off and analyse how we feel so we can be acting with a clearer mind :)
Here at 7 cups we don't class as anyone as overreacting. No matter even its a just a little niggle or something you want to get off your chest, we are here to listen to guide you through it
if you are overreacting you will start to think about everything in much more detail and pick at things to get angry about or get happy about
To know if you are overreacting if first you regret things you say in the heat of emotion ,lash out at loved ones, have to apologize to others for your actions or words, feel surprised at your seemingly uncontrollable reactions, assume the worst about people and situations and withdraw when things get emotionally overwhelming
Sometimes you don't realize you are overreacting til it happens, then when you do realize what a fool you have been, you begin to wonder why you examine things a lil bit better.
It's important to know the difference between reacting and overreacting because not all intense responses are overreactions. It's perfectly fine to feel your emotions and express yourself accordingly. Just like in physics, every action can have an equal and opposite reaction. If something is truly upsetting, you can be upset. If something makes you justifiably angry, you can be angry. The problem arises when you start to react in a bigger way than justified. For example, if you forgot to pick up the milk, it's not a reason to scream at someone else. You forgot it, not them, but more importantly: it's just milk. Overreactions never make the situation better.Say somebody else forgot the milk and now the meal you've been preparing is somehow ruined. Yelling at them isn't going to get you the milk, and now you've created a new problem between you and the other person. Stress causes us to overreact, but overreacting doesn't release any of it. All it does is create more stressors in our environment.
What I do when I'm questioning whether or not I'm overreacting, is I wait to react until a later time. Before I react to something I'm feeling strongly about, I wait 5-10 minutes. If I feel the same way then, then I'm not overreacting.
I always find it helpful to try and look at the situation and my behaviour or reaction to it, from an "observer" point of view. And then just ask: If someone else behaved or reacted like this, would I find it reasonable and justifiable?
One thing that helps me is to think of how other people generally react in similar situations and to make sure you got the full story before passing judgement. The other point to keep in mind is, is the relationship with the person abusive. In cases of abuse, it's not uncommon for abuse victims to feel like they're overreacting to everything so if this happens to you a lot with a specific person it might not be a bad idea to go through a checklist of symptoms you are in an abusive relationship (with a friend, parent or significant other). If it's a totally one off thing or you feel like you might over react a lot, proceed on to the other questions. Not that this only happens to people with mental illnesses, but I can only speak for myself. So when my mental illness was untreated I overreacted to just about everything. So for instance, my best friend used my expensive shampoo without asking. I felt really hurt by this because I am very particular about people touching my things, and my best friend knows this. Therefore I felt betrayed, basically, and all my emotions are dialed up to 11 because of my mood swings (thanks borderline). So my immediate reaction was to stop talking to her for the rest of the day. So it's really obvious to me now that this was an over reaction, but if you take it piece by piece: 1.) Do most people react to someone borrowing their things without asking by refusing to speak to them for an entire day? The answer would be no, unless you are including small children and I was in high school at the time -- in fact the fact that I can only think of small children doing this is a big red flag that this is an overreaction. 2.) Did I get the full story? No. Because I over reacted almost immediately after she confirmed that she had used it, I wasn't able to have a calm conversation with her about WHY she had used it. I just assumed that she had thought it was okay to borrow my things without asking and that she either didn't care that I would mind or didn't know me as well as I thought she did. In fact, I'm pretty sure I ignored her because I felt like she was ignoring me in a sense in that someone I felt so close to didn't know something that simple about me (like it came up a lot with other people and she was around to hear it so it felt like she was hardcore not paying attention to my feelings). In reality, after the fight cleared up I found out that she had used my shampoo only because hers was out, and didn't mention it because she figured I wouldn't notice such a small amount and that she was worried I would be mad at her for using it, which she was obviously not wrong about, but it also meant that the entire thing I was truly upset about, the idea that my best friend didn't know me all that well, was completely null and void, so it boiled back down to just someone using something without asking, and as I said, I over reacted. I also know that the person is not abusive based on the check list. In an abusive situation, it's common for people to seem to overreact to something small, when in reality there's another cause of them being upset. Like say your boyfriend forgets your anniversary one time and you start shouting at him, BUT your boyfriend also frequently puts you down by calling you ugly names or belittles you, then it might makes sense why you would over react to something small, because you already have a lot of negative feelings towards the person built up that you haven't expressed. TLDR; I would suggest writing down how you feel/felt and what kind of thoughts you had to explore why you felt that way as well as answering the questions of "do most people react this way?", "did I get the full story?", and "is this person abusive?"
Just imagine, would you want the other person to act the same way you are if roles were reversed? If then you feel like it's an over-reaction, then yes, you are.
You are in control of your own feelings, so you're the one who decides if a situation is bad enough to cry about it or not, for example. You shouldn't feel like you're overreacting just because someone else would react differently. Although sometimes maybe anxiety can lead you to exaggerate a little, you need to step out of that mindset and think clearly.
Before you speak on the problem consider a couple things first. Consider how severe the problem really is. Once you have that determined take a look at who is a part of the issue. Step into their shoes. Consider all sides of the story. Consider what they did and why. Do not compare this to what you would do. Look at why they did the thing they did. When you are done with that try expressing your feelings to the people involved. Use I feel messages and when they speak use active listening skills. Use a calm voice and don’t raise your voice or yell. Even if the other people are not calm try to remain calm.
Personally I think there is a very thin line between what's a normal reaction and an overreaction, and it is also socially constructed. But first thing first. it is important to remember that every emotion you feel is valid, even if they seem too intense, because they are basically the result of influences from both internal and external stimulus. Thus your reaction is valid too. Whether or not it's an overreaction, just depends on the social norm for behaviours in response to your experience. It is an overreaction if your response is overly severe for the situation. I've asked myself this question tonnes of times before too, especially in hindsight when my response feels silly and overdramatic (hindsight bias!). But remember this is a very fine and arbitrary line. What constitutes an overreaction for someone may well be within the normal reaction range for others. Don't be too hard on yourself and try not to beat yourself up over whatever that has happened.
Obviously, it's completely normal to be emotional sometimes. However, being overreactive can result in impulsive behaviour and hurting people you love. These are signs you may have an overreactive personality: If you never think before you speak. If you are not considering the perspective of others. If you make decisions too quickly. If you always regret what you said. If you often get upset and cry easily. If you get into many conflicts with others. If you always go over what you said in a situation. If some of these describe you then you might be overreactive. Next time you find yourself in a sticky situation ask yourself: What could be driving my reaction? Bad mood? Lack of sleep? What do I want to feel like? Relaxed? Then take the necessary steps to feel relaxed like getting enough sleep. Also, try to calmly discuss the issue with the other person without it getting heated.
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