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Are you someone prone to impulsive outbursts and displays emotional reactivity? Anybody can be reactive when they undergo extreme stress. If you show emotional reactivity often, though, you might suffer from frequent panic states and reach boiling point fast.

A couple arguing

What causes emotional reactivity?

Emotional reactivity can be painful. It used to be called getting hot-headed. Now experts understand people who react fast shift into fight-or-flight rather than take stock of what happens. Stress chemicals hijack their capacity to reason or apply logic to situations.

People with a high level of emotional reactivity often have turbulent relationships. Their defensiveness can make them come across as angry, and they could be irrational when fearful or frustrated.

If you are reactive, you might show the following signs. Don’t worry, though. You can learn how to lower your reactivity.

Signs of emotional reactivity

Palpitations and flushing

When the stress hormone cortisol surges, your face may redden, and your heart will race.

Tight muscles

Because you shift into fight-or-flight mode, your muscles tighten. The body sends energy toward fleeing from danger or going into battle, and you might clench your jaw and fists.


Some people cry when emotions overwhelm them. They aren’t always sad and could be in a rage. Or they might experience several emotions and burst into tears.

Breathing trouble

Reactive individuals can find it hard to breathe when they panic and struggle to exhale well.

Verbal attacks

When people are reactive, they engage in verbal outpouring. Words flow without due consideration. Later, they might not recall what they said in the heat of the moment.


Reactive people aren’t always aggressive, but some throw things, slam doors, bang their heads, or engage in fights when they are upset.

Passive-aggressive behaviour

Passive-aggressive behaviour includes sulking and refusing to talk. It could also manifest as revenge-seeking via rejection or refusing to satisfy another’s needs.

How to reduce emotional reactivity with emotional regulation

Emotional regulation is about controlling your reactions. If you are reactive, you may benefit from learning to pause and think rather than fly into a rage. When you reflect, you can apply logic and reasoning to situations and decide how to respond rather than be at the mercy of your emotions.

Hit the pause button

At first, it may be hard to pause instead of reacting because it’s new to you, and you need to practice. Do so when you are calm during everyday conversations. Pause before you speak, if only for a second or two, and ensure you frame what you say in ways that meet your goals for each conversation.

If you want to deepen your friendship with someone, impress a client, or resolve a problem, how best might you phrase what you say? How can you stay on point, get your message across, and meet your aims?

Learning to consider your objectives and pausing will rewire your behaviour long-term if you persevere. You’ll find it easier to hit your inner pause button on autopilot, even in stressful circumstances.

Practice active listening

You might lower emotional reactivity by listening well during conversations, too. When your emotions hijack your brain, listening gets hard. You can miss what people tell you because your physical and mental responses fire on all cylinders.

When you get into the habit of pausing, listening will become simpler. To do so, hone your attention on whoever you talk to, noting the tone of voice, body language, and words. Ask for clarification if you aren’t sure what they mean.

You can paraphrase what you think you hear, reflecting sentiments and words to whoever speaks, and they will correct any mistakes, so you understand better. The more you comprehend conversations, the fewer mistakes you’ll make that stimulate excess emotional reactions.

If you are prone to emotional reactivity, life could be problematic. You may feel misunderstood and often get defensive. For the sake of your relationships and mental health, you may benefit from recognizing signs of reactivity and identifying the need for change.

Your life could improve when you pause, craft conversations to meet your goals, and listen well. Then it will be easier to stay calm and enjoy peaceful communication.

Need some guidance? Try Seven Minute Mindfulness. In just 7 minutes, you can release stress, gain emotional strength, nurture stronger relationships, boost your ability to make great decisions and be more effective at work and in life!

If you are reactive, you might show the following signs. Don't worry, though. You can learn how to lower your reactivity.

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