You can feel it in the pit of your stomach. Your shoulders tense up as you wait in anticipation of what’s to come. A headache creeps in from the anxiety that runs rampant in your mind.
The situation is building, the tension is rising and you have no solution. Finally, the top blows off, and you overreact.
How could this have gone differently? What if you told yourself: “I will not react today” Would it have worked?
You live in a world of endless and cyclical emotion. You can’t escape the cycle no matter how hard you try. Emotions are what make you human. Because you are human, you don’t want to be alone with your emotion; you want others to feel like you feel.
Validation is the driver behind many emotions
You crave the validation of your deepest feelings. But the problem is: validation is the gateway to your weakness.
The easiest way to get validation of our emotion is to overreact with anger. Anger is not in your nature, you aren’t born angry, you’re born scared. Anger merely the default emotional bucket to all things that don’t feel good. It’s why we instantly get mad at that table leg the second we stub our toe on it.
If you need validation for your most uncomfortable sadness and emotional trauma, it’s much easier to fight back with anger. Anger is more convenient than to explain what we can’t explain. If someone else becomes angry with you, then you validate your pain together, even if the root of the pain is completely misaligned.
At least we’re not alone.
I could have overreacted but I had a choice: I will not react today
Recently, I was in a situation where I could have easily overreacted. I visited my uncle, who is seriously ill and admitted to hospital.
For most of you, while mildly uncomfortable, visiting a family member in the hospital is not a big deal. But this was the brother of my estranged father and a part of a family that I haven’t talked to in nearly 10 years.
My resistance to talking to my father’s family was not born from their actions, it was my own. Early on in my estrangement from my father, I resisted any contact with his family. I feared judgement, shame, and their reaction from my accusations of sexual abuse against my father when I was a child. Over time, those shameful feelings snowballed into guilt for not stepping up and facing them.
Time doesn’t heal all wounds, it only masks them.
So what would visiting my uncle mean? I would see my father in person for the first time in over five years. I may have to explain my absence all of these years. Who would I talk to? What would I say? Am I ready to open the gateway to my most profound weaknesses to the people closest to my father?
Will I overreact?
I didn’t, and here’s why.
Here are three things I did earlier in the day before I visited my uncle. They are preemptive actions that have always worked well for me in limiting stress and reducing overreaction.
I’m sure they will help you the next time you enter a stressful situation.
Tip #1: Drink lots of water
Hear this a lot? There is a reason.
We could save ourselves a lot of arguments if we were just adequately hydrated. You know you need water to live, but I’m sure you never thought of how much water you need to live mentally healthy.
Your brain is made up of 75% water. When you are dehydrated, not enough oxygen gets around your noodle to keep your thoughts in check.
Think of your brain as a network of streams and your thoughts as a leaves floating on top of them. When there is not enough water flowing, the leaves catch the bottom and stops moving. Raise the water, and the leaf moves again.
While water is vital to survival, proper water levels are crucial to clear thinking and your mental health.
When you are about to enter a stressful situation, taking a good drink of purified water will keep your mind flowing. Coffee doesn’t count, and neither does any other caffeinated or sugar-filled water. Caffeine and sugar only serve to make things worse, especially when you crash off the high from them.
Tip #2: Do some form of exercise, move!
Who would have thought?
When we are stressed out, it is from a constant build-up of the hormone, cortisol. This is the hormone that keeps us on edge when a predator is hunting us down. It’s the power behind fight or flight. If you are filled to the brim with cortisol, you have to give it a job, and the only way to do that is through exercise -or hunting a bear.
It’s no coincidence that the rise of mental health issues and emotional crisis is tied to the ever-growing societal problem of immobility. We are no longer hunter and gatherers or even farmers anymore. We leave our security in the capable hands of first responders. Yet, our brains are still on the watch for predators and your next meal.
Since we aren’t hunting for our next meal or being hunted, the cortisol hormones have nowhere to be expended. Over time, it builds up in our muscles and makes us tense when we fear a future situation. But getting out for a walk, run or set of burpees, you can get that cortisol out of your body and mind.
When cortisol is burned off, your brain replaces it with serotonin which stabilizes your moods. When you are cortisol free, it makes your future stressful situation much more palatable and keeps your focus away from becoming overreactive to the situation.
Cortisol is the #1 fuel for overreaction.
Tip #3: Take a cold shower
Deal breaker? I dare you to give it a try.
There are all kinds of benefits to this crazy practice. Taking a cold shower is linked to weight loss, better sleeping, increased fertility and -drum roll please… reducing stress!
I’ve been a big proponent of taking cold showers for a little over three months. Almost immediately after taking them, I had found myself much more resilient to emotional stress and frayed nerves. This is caused by cold temperatures lowering the levels of uric acid in the blood, which helps reduce stress.
But to be completely honest, after a minute or so in a cold shower, I can’t help but feel like a complete badass. If I can start my day with this kind of a shock to my nervous system, not much else rattles me.
What more useful is when you pair your cold shower with a mantra. On this particular day, when I visited my uncle in the hospital, I repeated to myself: “I will not react today” over and over. Not reacting to the cold water made me much more focused on my future mindset.
Your reaction to everything is everything
Drink water, move around and take a quick cold shower the next time you know you are about to enter a stressful situation. Be aware of how much they have helped you react in a positive way. Build upon these “life hacks” and make them your own.
Your happiness hinges on your ability to hedge your reactions to every situation you’re involved in. Emotional health is so dependent on the relationships you surround yourself and how you interact with them. Being aware of your weaknesses and understanding that every situation plays to them in one form or another serves to help you turn them into strengths.
Your life is entirely the product of your reaction to everything that has ever happened to you and also what will happen next. Whatever emotion you go to when times get tough, is entirely under your control. Stay in control, it’s your life to choose.