Someone cuts you off on the highway. You're so angry you're slow to honk your horn because you're busy shouting and swearing after them.
You sigh loudly and often stuck in the slow line at the supermarket.
A social media post has your hackles up and before you can stop yourself, you're typing an angry reply.
These are just a few of the common actions of an emotionally reactive person. Quick to react to a delay, an issue, controversial idea, a mistake, traffic jam, miscommunications or other problems. You might know someone like this or, you may be realizing that you are also one of these people.
You can feel it flaring up throughout your day. You might not realize it or not, but it's making your life incredibly difficult. You are imprisoned by your own emotions.
Someone is walking the dog. The human is using a leash which allows them to guide and control the actions of the dog.
That's what a reactive person truly is – the human and the dog.
So, when a dog spots a pigeon it immediately wants to rush to it for further inspection. The human is then required to leap into action to prevent this from occurring.
It's the exact same when dealing with someone who is reactive. You see something you don't like, and your unconscious reaction is akin to chasing and barking at it. What you need to learn how to do is become the human master who pulls you back in before you react. The only way you can do that is by learning how to calm yourself.
When you feel it rising up or you recognize a trigger, it's important to pause and take a breath.
For example, you're in traffic and someone cuts in because they hedged their bets and raced to the front of the crowd before a lane closes. It happens every day. Don't immediately allow yourself to get angry – shift your energy through breath.
What exactly is your reaction? Is it anger? Frustration? Insecurity or anxiety? If someone has cut you off, then there's a good chance your reaction is anger. However, as you navigate your day, there will be a range of reactions for you to label.
Ask yourself why this has triggered you in the way it did. Did the event or situation itself trigger you? Or, is it related to something that happened previously? The point of this step is to make yourself aware of your blind spots and triggers.
Often, the emotion in our reaction is down to something simmering below the surface. It's deeper than just being cut off. Rather, you might be reacting angrily because you feel like it's going to make you late. Think about this, have you ever cut someone off because you have been running late? Probably. That doesn't make it right, but it should help you put it into perspective.
You've paused, labeled, and asked, now it's time to choose your response. This is a key step in the process. Think about your goal, what matters most, and how you can respond productively. Is getting angry going to help you achieve your goal?
No. The goal in our example is to get to work (or another destination) on time and safely. Getting angry is going to shift your focus and distract you from that goal. A better response would be to shake it off and focus on the drive.
Finally, it's time to empower yourself! You can only move forward if you possess the awareness necessary to create better outcomes for everyone. Of course, it isn't easy, but with practice, you will find yourself shifting away from reactive emotions and calming yourself more effectively. It's all about building your capacity for self-reflection.