How do you respond to the minor hassles that characterise everyday life?
What's your typical response to:
Getting stuck in traffic?
Seeing your train is cancelled?
A stranger pushing past you?
We all overreact to the small stuff from time to time, but here’s the thing: research has shown that accumulated daily hassles show stronger relationships with psychological and physical issues than major stressful episodes.
That’s right – how you react to the small stuff has a bigger impact on your health than major stressful life events.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman coined the term “amygdala hijack” to describe these emotional overreactions.
There are three key signs of an amygdala hijack:
A sudden strong emotional reaction out of proportion to the situation
A realisation afterward that the reaction was disproportionate
Regret or embarrassment around the reaction
If you've experienced trauma, you might notice that you're more prone to emotional overreactions than others. This is because early chronic stress biologically reprograms how you respond to stress as an adult.
You might experience "emotional flashbacks" in which you react to the present as though you're in the past. The same intense feelings that occurred during the trauma – fear, shame or sadness – are being triggered in the present.
The good news is that everyone can learn self-help techniques to help defuse their emotional overreactions.
Your ability to prevent, recognise and control your emotions is part of your emotional intelligence (EQ). People with high EQ have developed strong connections between their brain’s emotional center and their executive (thinking) center.
One self-help technique for developing these connections is the mindfulness-based STOP Technique, a four-step mental checklist.
The idea is that taking a brief pause—even for less than one minute—helps you shift out of your emotional brain and into your brain’s thinking center.
This helps you cool down your emotional brain so that you can gain perspective and respond in helpful way.
Download our free worksheet and printable flashcards for learning this self-help technique below:
Manage challenging emotions with The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit
Learn The Thinking Slow Method, a 3-step system for managing challenging emotions, reducing overthinking and dealing with uncomfortable physical sensations
Includes workbooks, worksheets, flashcards and images to store on your phone – reinforce your learning and create change that lasts
Use a holistic approach that sees past labels and gets to the root causes of common mental health difficulties