How to Stop Overreacting

Author:  Kate Pauley – MFTC 

verified by Psychology Today

The Line of Choice

There is a concept called “the line of choice.”  The line of choice represents the choice that we have to move from “reaction” to “response.”  When we go into reaction, we go below the line.  We go into emotions like shame, guilt, anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, fear, worry, etc.  When we are in this state, we are reacting to a stimulus and typically don’t have much control over our emotions.  We tend to do and say things that we are not proud of, or later regret.Relationship Boundaries

The positive news is that we have the power to move above the line by choosing to respond rather than react.  Responding looks like creation, love, faith, forgiveness, trust, openness, acceptance, discernment, humor, etc.  In this space, we have the ability to discern how we would like to respond to a situation.  We can take a pause and be conscientious with our words rather than operate out of an unclear mind.

Noticing Body Sensations

When we are below the line it is important to notice our body sensations as this can be a warning sign that we are below the line.  Some common “below the line” sensations are heart racing, sweaty palms, clenched fists, tight jaw, busy mind, tight breathing, hot face, etc.  Begin by first simply noticing the body sensations you feel when you are below the line.Heart beat

Then, notice what your body feels like when you are above the line.  Maybe your body feels calm, your shoulders may feel relaxed, heart-rate slower, breathing normal, energy in the lower half of your body rather than the upper half.  When you are in a space of response, notice how you feel so that this can be your goal to move to when you are in a space of reaction.

Moving above the line

Every person will have different ways that work for them to move above the line.  Start to get curious about what works for you.  Explore different things when you notice yourself going below the line to figure out how you can move above the line consistently.

Some things to try:

  • Taking 3 deep breaths
  • Going for a walk
  • Playing/being silly
  • Calling a friend
  • Exercising/moving your body
  • Meditating
  • Stomp your feet
  • Get into nature

Helpful things to remember:

Everyone goes below the line; there is no need to judge yourself when you are below the line.  Let yourself feel whatever you are feeling below the line, be aware of your body sensations, and then make the conscious choice to move above the line.

Not every action to move you above the line will work every time.  Have a list of 5-6 things that work for you that you can run through when you start to go below the line.

This is a practice, give yourself grace to figure out what works for you.

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