How do you respond to the minor hassles that characterise everyday life? For example, what's your typical response to:
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. Here are three key signs of an amygdala hijack:
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 develop the mental wellbeing skills to help defuse 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 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.
Click the image below to download the free worksheets and flashcards with further information.
Research shows that self-help materials are often enough for people to overcome mild to moderate mental health difficulties without professional support.
If you’re interested in a self-guided program that includes tools from CBT, DBT, ACT and more, be sure to check out The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit. It's "like 10 therapy sessions in one."