Why do we overreact?

Overreacting is a physiological state and not controlled by our executive functioning neocortex

To understand why we overreact, we need to first look at some physiological functioning within our brain and body.

The fear-cycle: leads to our overreacting behavior

If we are exposed to a perceived danger or threat, within a few seconds, our amygdala which is part of the limbic system/brain sounds an alarm within our brain.

This tells our endocrine system, responsible for hormone regulation within our body, to release adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol.

The brainstem switches off all non-essential physiological processes, this includes digestion.

Blood is diverted into our muscles in preparation for a quick burst of action.

Our breathing quickens, heart rate and blood pressure spike to fill the body with oxygen. Our liver releases glucose to fuel our muscles along with the oxygen.

This has now prepared our body to fight/flight and it is on high alert. To reiterate, this happens within six-seconds as most research has shown.

Decisions to keep us safe

At the very moment, we feel our life endangered or threatened our brain runs the following options:

  • It will search for a way to reason, through social engagement, out of the danger.

If this is not an available option, our neocortex which is responsible for our rational and logical thinking is switched off. We no longer have access to our executive functioning of the neocortex; this is to allow the activation of or instinctual survival responses of flight/fight.

  • It will then decide if we can escape the threat, known as the flight response. If this is not available.
  • We then attempt to attack the threat, known as the fight response.
  • When both the fight and flight responses are not available, we then go into a freeze or dissociated response.

The brainstem again makes these decisions within six-seconds and its main function is to keep us alive and safe.

Dr Stephen Porges developed the Polyvagal theory, watch his video which explains the above responses in more detail:

Dr. Stephen Porges explains the Polyvagal theory.

Examples of overreactions

When our brain senses a danger, it will engage the flight/fight response. When it perceives a threat to our life, it will automatically engage the freeze response. In our everyday work life, we are constantly exposed to danger and threat signals throughout the day. Fighting you way out of these stressors is generally not an option, so these then manifest in anger outbursts, feeling frustrated and irritated and even expressing these emotions at work.

I know I tended to do this very often, if not a few times within the day.

There may be days where you just want to come up with any excuse to not have to be at work.

Or you might just become so numb to what is going on around you and it might feel like you are in autopilot mode.

Fight/Flight and Freeze

The above are examples of how we would display the fight, flight, or freeze responses in our daily lives. All, I must add, are automatically engaged and out of your control. Your limbic brain or brainstem has taken over, trying to keep you safe from the perceived danger or threat, and without you knowing it you have reacted or overreacted to the situation.

Next time you see or hear a colleague have an extreme reaction to a stressful situation, just understand it is not them doing it but their brain keeping them safe. Remember, if you experience the same reaction, try to be kinder to yourself.

Relief from these triggers of overreacting

Most stress relieving or trauma therapy has looked at mainly the fight/flight system and have tended to address the freeze response, as stated in this research paper. TRE® addresses both the mobilization and immobilization system in releasing the trapped tension, trauma, and stress in your body, also creating safety within the body.

To find out more about how TRE® can you a positive impact on you, your body and your nervous system, book a FREE online consultation.

Ready to shake off this stress and feel re-connected with your body and re-emerge feeling balanced, restored and embodied, then book your appointment today.

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