5 ways to tell if you’re overreacting

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on May 22, 2023

5 ways to tell if you’re overreacting

Tune-in to your thoughts and feelings, and learn how to evaluate situations in a calm, honest way

We’ve all been there: it’s the heat of the moment, your emotions are flying high, and somewhere from the sidelines a niggling feeling inside you is asking: “Am I overreacting?”

The truth is, whether or not you actually are overreacting, you’re still feeling the things you’re going through – those emotions are real and valid, and concluding that you maybe blew things out of proportion doesn’t mean that you need to minimise those feelings. But being aware of this can help you build clarity and self-knowledge, and also develop better relationships with others.

Here, we explore five ways you can assess whether you’re overreacting, and how you can harness this to benefit your overall wellbeing.

What are the facts?

Take a step back, and consider the situation in the most basic, factual, unemotional terms possible – it may help to write this down, and also to explore the context. For example, maybe your partner left the milk on the countertop and now it’s gone sour, which led to a blazing argument. If that’s all that’s going on, you might be able to reflect on the scenario and conclude that, yes, maybe that was an overreaction. On the other hand, perhaps there were events that led up to this showing that maybe your partner isn’t pulling their weight at home, or you’re going through a difficult time and you need them to take on more responsibility. Assess the facts, come to your own conclusion, and set a course of action.

How are the people around you reacting?

Are they shocked by the way that you’re reacting and, if so, could that tell you you’re behaving in a way that is out of character for you? Tuning-in to our support systems when we need to talk out a situation is a great way to work through your emotions. Take them through the scenario, and ask for their honest interpretation. You may find this process alone helps you to come to your own conclusion, but having someone who knows you on board for the journey can be invaluable.


Is this something you would usually get upset by?

Sometimes, when we’re going through a hard time, our stress and emotions can bubble up to the surface before we’ve really identified them. You may have snapped over something today that wouldn’t have fazed you last week. If you find that this is the case, consider whether this outburst can tell you anything about your overall wellbeing? Are you squashing down stress or anger that you need to address? Or are you anxious about something that’s coming up in your life? Did you get enough sleep last night? Are you eating a balanced diet?

Will this matter to you in the morning?

Putting the situation into perspective, ask yourself: is this something that will matter to you in a week’s time, a month’s time, or a year? How about the next day, following a good night’s sleep? If you think your feelings will fade with a bit of time, hold on to this. It doesn’t mean that in the moment you didn’t feel them, only that you can look forward to putting them behind you, and moving on. When we’re caught in the middle of something, it can be hard to see a way out, so thinking about the problem in this manner helps you create a pathway forward.

"Our emotions are complex, as are our reactions, and we can go through a range of feelings all at once"

What other feelings are in the mix?

At first glance, you might be feeling anger, or sadness, but what’s going on underneath those base feelings? For example, you missed the train and feel furious, but you know you should have left home earlier. Perhaps now you’re concerned that you’re going to let the friend you were meeting down, so there’s a pool of guilt fuelling the anger. Or maybe a work colleague spoke over you in a meeting, and you feel frustrated, but also rejection mixed in with feelings of imposter syndrome. Our emotions are complex, as are our reactions, and we can go through a range of feelings all at once. And while, every now and then, we may overreact to a situation, it’s always worth accepting and tuning-in to those feelings – they just might be telling you something you need to hear.

To connect with a counsellor to discuss what could be bubbling under the surface and encouraging you to overreact, visit www.counselling-directory.org.uk

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