Our natural emotional responses can be confusing sometimes, and may make us react to things in ways we don’t like. For example, you might experience:
- Getting angry and lashing out at someone if they upset you
- Feeling sad when you hear negative feedback and find it hard to bounce back from it
- Having scary thoughts if you’ve been bullied or left out by someone.
Our emotional reactions can pass quickly or stay for a long time, leaving us in a low mood.
We don’t always understand why we react to things like we do, and it’s normal to feel confused about why you’re acting the way you are. Remember that there are often biological reasons behind our emotions. For example, anger is an inbuilt response to help us defend ourselves.
The great news is, with a bit of work you can rewire your brain to respond differently. Here are some tools you can use to change how you react.
Pause for a moment
Notice when something comes up that sparks a response you don’t want to have. For example, if you get a low mark back on an assignment, or if a sibling really annoys you – pause for a second before you let your natural reaction take over.
Take a deep breath and think:
- How is this situation making me feel?
- Why is it making me feel like that?
- How do I want to respond to this?
Taking a moment to breathe and think before you act is a great first step towards changing the way you respond to things. It can also help you separate your feelings from your actions. While you may be feeling incredibly upset or angry, you can recognise that feeling as something you don’t need to act on at all.
Get to know strategies that work
It can be hard to break out of a habit, and reactions can become like habits. Altering how you react may take time and lots of reminders. You may also need to try a few different things to learn what helps you change how you react.
Instead of snapping at someone or becoming angry, try walking away from the situation altogether. Take a walk to clear your head or listen to some music for a while to cool off. This can give you some space so you don’t react in the moment in a way you don’t want to.
Speak positively to yourself
Instead of becoming burdened with sadness or guilt when something bad happens to you, block out negative self-talk and replace it with positive self-talk. Say things like, ‘I am good enough’, ‘I am loved’ and ‘I am worthy’. This can remind you that the difficult emotions you’re experiencing don’t mean you’re not a good person. Check out our tips on how to be kinder to yourself.
Talk it out
Instead of hiding yourself away or forcing yourself to be on your own when you’re upset by something, go and talk to someone. This might be a friend, parent or teacher. Tell them how you feel and ask for some recommendations on how to feel better. Here are five ways to more clearly communicate your feelings.
It can be really helpful to reflect on your past reactions and behaviours. This is where journaling can be a useful tool. Write down what has happened, how you reacted to it, and what you would like to do differently next time.
Reflecting can also give you a chance to weigh up if your response affected anyone else. You may realise that you need to apologise to someone for how you responded in the moment.
Celebrate small wins
When you notice yourself reacting in a better way, take the time to acknowledge and celebrate it. Write about your progress in a journal, or get yourself a treat. You’ll probably notice that other people will appreciate how your reactions have changed too, and it may even improve your relationships.
If you actively work at changing how you react to things, you’ll soon find it easier to manage how you respond when tough times come along. While you may still experience confusing feelings or thoughts, you’ll be able to separate yourself from them and not respond in a way you’ll regret later. You’ll be able to recognise, ‘this is how I’m feeling right now, but this feeling will pass and I will be OK’.
If you’d like more tips on how to change the way you react to things, it can be helpful to talk to a professional. Reach out to your local headspace centre, or check out eheadspace.