Some of us have been primed for high reactivity. Our early caregivers or past relationships did not provide consistent comforting and nurturing, so our nervous systems developed a sensitivity to possible abandonment. We tend to react strongly if we feel at all threatened. Sometimes these strong reactions lead to self-fulfilling prophesies. The more we react, the more difficult our relationships are.
I’ve found it helpful to find ways to reduce my reactivity.
Meditation: So many benefits
I took back control of my morning a year ago. I stopped jumping out of bed and hurrying to take care of work and others. I stopped looking at my emails and text requests first thing in the morning. I begin each day less reactively and more deliberately.
I started meditating. Now, I know meditation has many benefits associated with mental and spiritual well-being, but I have recently realized it also allows me to take charge of how I start my day.
I choose to meditate with an application on my phone (insighttimer.com) before I do anything else. Taking that time to center myself and plan my intentions gets my day off on the right foot. It takes the dread out of getting up. I don’t feel like I’m being shot out of a cannon. I look forward to easing into the day.
The purpose of the MORNING ROUTINE is to GET YOU OUT OF SURVIVAL MODE. You do that by giving yourself space in the morning to orient yourself with the person you intend to be. You also orient yourself toward your highest goals and priorities. — Benjamin Hardy
Before or right after meditation, I make a to do list on my phone. I know that sounds like shackling myself to drudgery and demands, but it actually provides relief. I no longer have to maintain that list of tasks in my head. My mind can relax. This is why I often make the to do list before meditation.
Create space for forethought
Your morning routine does not have to be exactly like mine, of course, but I do recommend leading your life instead of being dragged behind it. To lead, we have to know where we want to go.
When we create space to ponder our priorities, gratitude and goals, decision-making is easier. We know what we value and spend less time putting out fires made by others. Our nervous systems rest easier. Constantly reacting to others and our environment keeps us on high alert, which drains our energy.
To keep our sensitive nervous systems calm, spend time at the beginning of the day, contemplating what truly matters. What are you fortunate to have? What do you long for? What is your gut reaction to a current dilemma?
Reactivity in parenting
There was a time when my mom nerves were so frazzled I had a hard time not snapping when little mishaps like a child’s spilled milk occurred. It took everything in my power to not yell. Sometimes I did anyway. A big unnecessary reaction.
In those days, I put a lot of pressure on myself to have everything running smoothly. Everyone had to behave well, look nice and be happy. Everything had to be in its place and state of the art. If someone or something dared to step out of line, I took it personally and reacted accordingly. I got defensive. I blamed others or outside circumstances. At first, I got really uptight, then I was sad and ashamed of my behavior. Eventually, I withdrew. Unhealthy reactions.
Claim space for yourself
I’ve found it helpful to make plans that include others’ needs but also my own. If we let everyone tell us what we need to do, we run from urgent need to urgent need without any prioritizing or thoughtful contemplation. I understand sometimes there is no time for contemplation, but most of the time there is, we just have to claim it. Keeping space for our self-interests — which we know because we’ve taken the time to consider them — keeps us from becoming doormats or reacting negatively.
Reactivity in romance
Just like within a family relationship, within a romantic one, we need to focus on responsiveness not reactivity, especially when in conflict. Responsiveness includes a pause to choose our action. It includes determining whether we are reacting to an old wound or the current situation.
It’s key to listen to what the other person says and determine the true meaning behind it, versus listening and then determining how to protect ourselves with defensiveness or criticism. Most people do not start conversations with the intention of making us feel bad. They want to be heard, just like us.
Four big ways to reduce reactivity
What helps me be less reactionary in relationships?
- Quality sleep: If we’re tired, we’re apt to be more emotional. Our patience diminishes. Get at least seven solid hours of sleep. Sleep soothes sensitivity. Protect that time, everyone benefits.
- Feeling emotionally safe: Having a person (or persons) in our lives who makes us feel at home and at ease with ourselves and them, lets us stop scanning the horizon for threats. No threats, more relaxing, fewer strong reactions.
- Space within the day: Do not cram your schedule. Hustling from one activity to the next with no rest, is not natural. It increases our stress hormones. It increases our chances of outbursts.
- Meditation: Back to meditation. Meditation trains our brains to focus and refocus without berating ourselves for getting distracted. It teaches us how to stay present. It shows us how to create stillness within ourselves. All of this leads to a more calm, centered self.
What makes you lose it? What helps you stay calm?