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How To Reduce Emotional Reactivity: 9 BEST Strategies [2022]

By Dr. Ori Shinar

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If you’re looking for strategies on how to reduce emotional reactivity, then this article is exactly what you are looking for!

Let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents:

  • What is Emotional Reactivity?
  • How to Reduce Emotional Reactivity
    • Strategy 1: Start With Active Listening
    • Strategy 2: Don’t Make Assumptions About What Other People Mean
    • Strategy 3: Take a Breath
    • Strategy 4: Identify What You’re Feeling
    • Strategy 5: Identify Your Triggers
    • Strategy 6: Communicate Your Experience
    • Strategy 7: Take a 15 Minute Break 
    • Strategy 8: Replenish Your Energy
    • Strategy 9: Speak to a Therapist

What is Emotional Reactivity?

Emotional reactivity happens when intense emotions are “triggered” by an external event. Often, the event leaves you feeling hurt, angry, or defensive. These triggers may cause you to lash out or act impulsively– doing or saying something you later regret.

You may be emotionally reactive if you find yourself doing the following:

  • You feel that you have no control over what happens or what you say
  • You say hurtful things to people including yourself in moments of anger
  • Your moods change quickly and without warning
  • You have suffered from depression or anxiety
  • You feel rage at the slightest perceived criticism
  • Your reactions are disproportionate to what’s happening around you
stressed out

Let’s look at 9 strategies to reduce emotional reactivity!

Strategy 1: Start With Active Listening For How To Reduce Emotional Reactivity

The first strategy you can use to reduce emotional reactivity is active listening. Active listening is a skill-based tool that can help you respond rather than react impulsively. When you active listen, you should: 

  1. Try to listen unbiasedly and truly understand what the other person is trying to communicate to you. 
  2. Notice your thoughts and feelings, without judgment or suppression. Allow your initial reaction to flow through you, while keeping the focus on the other person. 
  3. If you find that you’re experiencing emotions, just take a mental note. The same is true with your opinions. Remember to bring them up later, after you fully understand the other person’s point of view.

Ask yourself the following questions to stay in a stance of active listening:

  • What is the other person feeling?
  • What is the experience they are sharing?
  • What are they saying they want or need from me?

Once you have listened fully first, then it’s okay for you to politely voice how you feel.  Don’t take it personally if they do not agree with you. Instead, ask them to help find a solution that will work for both of you.  

Remind yourself you have choices about what you say and do next, then decide how you want to proceed from there.

When necessary, use pauses in dialogue to slow things down and give yourself time to find the right words and feelings to express. 

Remember that a person will not be able to give you good, accurate feedback and problem solve with you in any meaningful way if they feel attacked, criticized, defensive, or become highly emotional themselves. 

It’s better to calmly share your thoughts without judgment and see what type of supportive feedback the other person can offer back.

This strategy can be very powerful in reducing emotional reactivity because it gives both parties a sense that they are heard, validated, and understood

When one person feels like they are being listened to and understood their emotions will naturally start to calm down. And as those emotions calm down, both you and the other person will be better able to think more clearly about how to respond in a healthy way.


Strategy 2: Don’t Make Assumptions About What Other People Mean

A frequent cause of emotional reactivity is assuming you know what other people meant or intended without asking them. This is often a habit that people don’t even realize they do. 

When you begin to feel anger, rage, or frustration, it’s very easy to assume that the other person intended to make you feel this way or has some malicious intentions. These unwarranted assumptions increase your risk of reacting to your emotions.

Assuming that others have malicious intent is often a habit of those who have grown up in abusive environments where people frequently did have bad intentions. That does not mean that’s true now, or with everyone in your life.

After you have listened to what the other person has to say, instead of making assumptions, ask them a few questions to be sure you understood what they said.

ideas for How To Reduce Emotional Reactivity

For example: “It sounds like you’re feeling hurt and uncared for because I forgot to pick you up at work and you had to wait for me for over an hour. Does that sound right?”

It is not uncommon to discover that they actually have wonderful intentions, were just looking out for you, or that they just see things differently than you, etc. None of these situations warrant emotional reactivity.

In fact, responding to others with strong emotions without fully understanding them makes it harder for other people to share with you in the future. Ask questions to get a full understanding of what people mean instead of making assumptions.

Strategy 3: Take a breath

Taking a deep breath is one of the most effective ways to calm yourself down. Breathing deeply from your diaphragm is particularly calming as it promotes slow, even oxygen flow through your body – which in turn helps your body produce endorphins (‘happy chemicals’). 

Slow breathing also allows more time for signals coming into your brain to filter up into consciousness rather than triggering automatic responses in the autonomic nervous system. So slow breathing calms you down!

Breathe into your stomach (rather than your chest) for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, and then release your breath for 3 seconds. During your deep breathing, consider the best way to respond to the situation. 

How To Reduce Emotional Reactivity

Strategy 4: Identify What You’re Feeling

There is evidence to show that when you name the emotion you are feeling, specific parts of your brain are activated that help you cope with those feelings. This has proven to be just as effective as many other strategies for regulating your emotions.

The most challenging part of naming your emotions is developing a vocabulary of emotion words so you have the appropriate word for each emotion. 

When you don’t have a word to describe a particular emotion, both you and the person you are speaking with won’t be able to fully understand your experience. 

When you feel heard and understood you begin to feel calm and safe. Take some time to learn more emotional words and begin labeling all your emotions.

You can find comprehensive list of feeling words → HERE

Strategy 5: Identify Your Triggers

Emotional reactivity can sometimes seem like a whirlwind of emotion that can be hard to control. But there’s usually just a few triggers that cause you to react more intensely than others 

Start to identify those things that set you off the most and become aware of what happens inside your mind and body when you encounter them. (Does your heartbeat increase, shoulders tighten, heart rate increase?)

Take a moment after each time you react and write down what happened. 

Writing thoughts out

Later, go back to what you wrote down and try to find the deeper issue that really got under your skin. 

You might ask yourself: 

  • What was I feeling just before I started yelling/storming out? (powerless, ashamed, abandoned, rejected, small, overwhelmed, incapable, etc.). 
  • Was there some event that triggered my reaction? (Being in a hurry, having a difficult day at work, etc.)
  • What was I thinking at the time? (I’m not good enough, they’re trying to belittle me, etc.)

Do this every time you find yourself being reactive for 30 days. After a  month, categorize what things set you off most frequently and begin to put together a thoughtful plan of action to execute the next time you begin feeling triggered.

For example, if you know that being in a hurry is one of the times when you’re most likely to get angry, try leaving earlier than you need to. This will reduce your reaction to elevators, cars, or people who slow you down.

Other factors such as anxiety, phobias, and OCD may be contributing to your emotional regulations. To learn more this check out our page → HERE

Strategy 6: Communicate Your Experience Effectively

Many conversations quickly devolve into fights and conflict through blaming and shaming statements.

Blaming involves assigning fault to the other person. “If you hadn’t overslept we wouldn’t have missed our appointment!”

Communication for  How To Reduce Emotional Reactivity

Shaming involves tearing down the character or identity of another person. “You’re not very nice”, You’re a grouch”, etc.

Blaming and shaming other people creates a painful experience in multiple ways.

  • It makes them feel hurt, attacked, defensive, and bitter if done repeatedly.
  • It makes the other person resist sharing their experience with you in the future which slowly hurts the relationship.
  • It can damage the long-term self-confidence of the other person.

Instead of blaming and shaming, use the communication model: When youI feelBecauseI want

(When You ___) Make sure you fill in the blank with a specific action (such as “when you don’t greet me when you come home…”) rather than making sweeping statements or character attacks (such as “when you act like a jerk”) which is difficult to correct and places others on defense. 

(I Feel___): This is a great opportunity to express an emotion such as “sad, dismissed, anxious”. Avoid expressing a thought or opinion in place of an emotion. A good example would be “I feel overlooked” as opposed to “I feel like you don’t care about me, or I feel that you’re being inconsiderate” which can come across as a judgment to their motives. 


(Because____): This allows more context to the issue or feeling being addressed. For example, you might say “when you didn’t greet me when you came home, i felt sad, because I was really looking forward to seeing you” or “when you spend money on non essential things, i feel afraid, because we don’t have much money left in the bank.” 

(I want___) Phrase the outcome you would like in the positive without placing blame. For example, rather than saying “I want you to stop blowing all the leftover money or I want you to stop ignoring me” you might say “I want to budget how we spend our money or I want to spend a few minutes with you when you get home”. 

You might then ask the question “what do you think?” to further disarm the situation.

Notice that in these statements you were able to share how you felt while also avoiding any blaming or shaming language.

This can be difficult to implement but with practice it will become second nature and will help you reduce your emotional reactivity.

To learn about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how it can help you better regulate your thoughts and emotions, check out our page → HERE

Strategy 7: Take a 15 Minute Break

When you start to feel heated, let your partner know that you’re feeling overwhelmed and that you need to take a few minutes to calm down and think. Be sure to give them a specific amount of time when you will come back and finish the conversion. 


Taking some time to calm down will help you to avoid saying something you might regret. It also gives you and your partner a chance to think over the situation with fresh eyes. 

Taking a timeout will also help reduce unnecessary conflict because it allows the high emotional arousal levels associated with anger and frustration to go down a bit before continuing.

Strategy 8: Replenish Your Energy

Naturally, people are more reactive when they are exhausted, hungry, or under stress from some other outside situations like a graduate school exam or a difficult day at the office.

To reduce your emotional reactivity it is important that you sleep 6-8 hours a night, that you are eating healthy meals, and that you are drinking enough water.

If you aren’t taking care of your body, your body will be under additional stress and won’t have what it needs to be under control when you find yourself in a frustrating situation. 

Utilizing mindfulness and grounding techniques throughout your day can also help set you up for success once a triggering event takes place.

You can find a great resource for mindfulness → HERE

Strategy 9: Speak to a Therapist

If you still feel out of control and find yourself being emotionally reactive, it may be time to seek outside help.  A therapist can give you effective strategies on what to do when you feel out of control. With some new tools, practice, and guidance, you can get control over your reactivity.

Speaking with therapist For How To Reduce Emotional Reactivity

That brings us to the end of this blog on how to be less emotionally reactive. If you would like to talk with someone, go ahead and contact us today to learn more about how we can help you. 

Which strategy did you find most helpful for how to reduce emotional reactivity?

Let us know in the comments!

Schedule an appointment with dr ori

Are you ready to start living fully?

To learn more about individual therapy schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation and we’ll help determine if our services are a good fit for you.

Schedule an appointment with dr ori

Are you ready to start living fully?

To learn more about individual therapy schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation and we’ll help determine if our services are a good fit for you.

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