Picture this: 

As the morning sun rises, you stir from a fitful sleep. The bitter chill of your apartment is seeping through the blankets. The landlord still hasn’t fixed the heat. The memories of shivering through the night keep you from fully waking up. You’re excited for your date later that day and the “important and exciting” conversation your partner wants to have. But first, you need your morning cup of coffee.

You trudge to the bathroom. The chill of the floorboards biting into your feet. You begin your morning routine. But as you reach for your beloved coffee container, you realize with a sinking heart that there are only a handful of beans left. You debate whether to splurge on a professional coffee, but decide it’s a form of self-care. You head out, eager for your caffeine fix, but are met with a closed sign on your favorite local coffee shop. Frustrated, you make your way to the nearest chain, ordering your usual “dirty chai with an extra shot” only to find the price has risen to an exorbitant amount. Your frustration simmers as you head to the office, and the day goes on with a series of microaggressions from colleagues.

The thought of the important conversation with your partner keeps you going. You can almost feel the weight of the ring in your pocket, ready to ask you to move in together. But when you finally meet them, they reveal that they have a promotion that comes with a lot of travel, leaving you feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. Your emotions boil over. You lash out, ending the relationship in a fit of anger. As you walk home, you can’t help but feel a sense of loss and disappointment

What is Emotional Reactivity

What the heck just happened? That isn’t how you envisioned your evening going. You certainly did not want to break up with your partner. 

What you just experienced was emotional reactivity. Emotional reactivity is the degree of behavioral responses that are strongly influenced by a powerful emotional state. Sometimes the behavioral responses can feel uncontrollable, overwhelming, or like you are an entirely different person. After the emotions shift, you can become disconnected from yourself, remorseful, guilty or even shameful of your behavior. 

In the scenario above, it was not only the disappointment of your partner traveling that caused a strong emotional response. Additionally, it was all of the smaller grievances that came before. All of the unattended feeling of being out of control, disappointed, frustrated and angry. Ignoring, pushing down or not attending to the build up can allow for an unintentional emotional spill over. 

Emotionally reactivity can also be linked to traumatic events. A person who has been exposed to early childhood trauma, neglect, or brain injury may be more prone to experiencing emotional reactivity and dysregulation. Emotional reactivity can look like many different behaviors, but the underlying thread that ties it together is that the resulting behavior often comes from an action or event from the past.

How Do I Become Less Emotional?

I would argue that the goal is not to become “less emotional”, but to learn emotional regulation skills. Your body is always working to tell you something. The anger, frustration, and disappointment that came up in the moment may be working to let you know that your needs have not been met. Take an internal walk to reflect of what the reactivity might really be about. Past traumas may have a deep effect on your reactivity. Internal reflection with a liscenced therapist can provide a deeper understanding of the connection between past and present experiences, learning coping mechanisms and self-care practices to manage triggers and overwhelming emotions, and working through unresolved trauma in therapy. Some strategies that may be helpful for becoming more emotionally regulated include:

  1. Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, can help to focus the mind and bring attention to the present moment, which can reduce the impact of past traumas on current emotions.
  2. Self-Care: Taking care of one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being is important in regulating emotions. This includes getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in regular physical activity.
  3. Learn to identify triggers: Understanding the things that can trigger past traumatic experiences is an important step in managing emotions. Identifying triggers can help you avoid or prepare for them in the future.
  4. Connect with others: Connecting with others and building a support system can help to reduce feelings of isolation and provide a sense of safety and security.
  5. Therapy: Trauma-focused therapy such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) or Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT) can help to process and work through unresolved trauma, and develop new coping strategies for managing emotions.

It’s important to note that healing from past traumas takes time and patience, and progress may not always be linear. It’s also important to find a therapist who is trained in trauma-informed care and with whom you feel comfortable working with. We are here for you, to take the first step in developing new skills and healing from past traumas. 

Share this article!

About the author
Kyra Ross

Kyra believes that the incorporation of the whole person is needed for growth, healing, and the ability to flourish as an individual. In her work as a clinician, she utilizes body and breathwork to strengthen the awareness of the mind/body connection. Awareness of her clients intersectionality and how their multiple identities contribute to their worldview allows room for healing from intergenerational and societal traumas.