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How often have you been triggered into a total hissy fit by the words “Stop over-reacting!!”
When we’re over-reacting, we definitely don’t want to be told about it. In fact, we don’t want to admit it for ourselves. In some cases, we have no idea that we’re over-reacting and so the words ring around our heads like some crazy accusation, stinging us into more and more distress, rather than shaming us into tempering our responses which is what’s usually behind the injunction.

This is the reactive downward spiral of sensitivity + imbalance + baggage + event + “stop over-reacting” + reactive humiliation/shame/anger. It’s a bit of a mess, much like how it feels when it happens.

Let’s break it down and see how much of a dent we can put in this spiral of doom.

Something happens, you respond to it.
No problem.

Something happens, you respond to it more than could be generally expected for that something.
This is entering ‘reaction’territory. The distinction I use is that responding is something conscious, chosen, deliberate, ethical. Reacting is more of a reflex reaction – something happens and you re-act to it. Maybe there’s a bit of both going on in this case: responding and a bit of reaction blobbed on.
What’s going on? You’re probably sensitive, or out of balance, or both.
If you’re sensitive, things can make a greater impact on your senses. A loud noise becomes ear-splitting. Bright lights become blinding and painful. You respond more because you feel it more.
If you’re out of balance – you’re tired, hungry, thirsty, you’ve got a migraine, or you’re already perturbed by something else that happened earlier that day – you haven’t got your full quotient of ‘incident-handling skill’ available. You’re probably reacting to what’s going on. Deal with the underlying imbalance then respond to what’s happening, if you can.
If you’re sensitive and out of balance, your reactions are likely to be stronger still, as you’ll experience the imbalance more than someone who’s less sensitive.

Something happens, you react to it more than could be generally expected for that something and for you given your sensitivity and/or current imbalances.
You’ve probably got some baggage going on. History, previous experience, unhelpful beliefs (e.g. “if we kiss I’ll get pregnant” therefore massive reaction when your date approaches for a kiss…)
Baggage sensitises you. When things happen, your response is part response and part reaction. If we could have some kind of reliable metric, it might say ‘10% response, 90% reaction’.

Culture caveat: Something happens, you respond/react to it more than is generally expected in that culture
Your culture – your country’s culture, your local region’s, your family’s culture, may all be different to the culture in which you get accused of over-reacting. The dynamics – from pianissimo to fortissimo – for any given situation can vary wildly across cultures. If you’re from a fortissimo culture, people will interpret you as over-reacting even when you’re saying ‘Good morning’ with a smile.
Being a Brit, I have the opposite problem. I tend to understate things. Occasionally. So when I responded to my husband’s excellent play in a game of park-golf with a measured ‘not bad’, our Dutch friends were somewhat boggled by my unenthusiastic comment, while my northern-England chap beamed with the glow of shared pride. As much as a Lancashire lad can beam, of course.

So what can you do?

As the Oracle at Delphi says: Know Thyself.

Know your senses – how much you’re aware of, how much you sense, how this differs from your friends, family, colleagues. When you know what your senses are up to, you can make better sense of what’s going on around you and respond to it without over-reacting.

Know what imbalances you, and how. You might become a raging tiger when you’re hungry, or you might go zombie-like. Thirst might stop you thinking straight, migraines stop you from, well, quite a lot of things. You get the idea. Know how to recognise it, prevent it, and sort it out when it happens.

Let go of your baggage. You don’t always need to know what your baggage is. It can be as simple as needing to have a bath or a run to get it out of your system, or you may need someone – a friend, a counsellor, a confidante – to hold space for you to put your baggage down by talking it through. Deeply held baggage may need some extra help still.

Culture caveat: know your culture, your family culture, your society’s culture. Experience other cultures and look back across at where you’ve come from.

Reflect on all the list above, see which ones are most relevant to you, and decide if you want to do anything about it.