How to Avoid Being Oversensitive

Three Parts:Understanding Your ReactionsCoping in the MomentTaking the Initiative to Have Better Days

It can be tough for the more sensitive of us to weather the emotional storms of daily life, be they critical opinions of us, discomforting topics, or any other hardships. This sensitivity is innate nature, informed by life experiences, and it should not be thought of as weakness or as a simple choice the person is making. Indeed, if it was as as simple as choosing not to be “so sensitive,” why wouldn’t we? Luckily, there are tactics a person can take to better handle overwhelming situations.

Part 1
Understanding Your Reactions

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    Reflect on your emotions. Are you reacting with anger, worry, offense, embarrassment, or disappointment? Why did this situation or comment provoke this in you? It’s difficult to neutralize powerful reactions in the moment, but the more mindful you are of your behavior the better equipped you will be to alter it as necessary moving forward.
    • Say, for example, that you spoke up with an opinion of yours at a get-together, only for it to be contradicted by an acquaintance. You feel flushed and overwhelmed: is it because you're embarrassed to be wrong, or angry for your acquaintance's choice of words? Perhaps it's something else entirely, but taking time to determine exactly why you felt overwhelmed is an important first step to beating that feeling in the future.
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    Analyze your role in the issues. If you're repeatedly having your feelings hurt by a certain person or situation, there's a reason. Someone isn't always at fault, and someone isn't always in the wrong, but there's always a reason, as simple as that may sound. Determine the reason and what role you honestly play in it.
    • If your role is that you've experienced emotional trauma in your past related to those issues, consider counseling if your coping methods have proved ineffective so far for you.
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    Overcome this for yourself. Meaning: make sure you’re doing this because you feel it would be best for you, your well-being, and your coping skills, and not because someone else told you it was something you lacked or needed. There are many in the world who may call you oversensitive when you’re having an entirely understandable reaction to negative stimuli, or that you’re eager to be offended or hurt. No one can tell you with any authority the way that you should feel about something.
    • There is no correct answer here. It could be a deeply distressing situation concerning something monumentally important to you, or something you recognize as insignificant outside of the moment.
    • It's okay to be flawed. Many feel a pressure to present as perfect, leading them to harmfully internalize the slightest criticism. Feeling the need to be present perfectly can stunt our communication with everyone around us, and harbor strong, negative feelings we're not quite aware of. [1]

Part 2
Coping in the Moment

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    Take a deep breath. It’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche because it works. Often you’ll find that you’ve held your breath when reacting, or have begun breathing erratically. Take several slow deep breaths using your diaphragm and abdominal muscles when presented with difficult situations. [2]
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    Stay in the present. Procrastination has not been shown to be an effective coping method, and neither has straight-up ignoring the issue. Think about how to handle yourself here and now. [3]
    • Often, the issues that work us up are small ones, piled up high enough to feel huge and important when they aren’t. Every problem or stressor can always be broken down into components you can handle; if it doesn’t seem like it can, that’s only because it hasn’t been broken down far enough yet!
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    Express yourself. Releasing a little steam can sometimes keep from the whole kettle boiling over, so to speak. Overcoming oversensitivity doesn't mean you have to be meek or unfeeling. Sometimes it means you need to talk it out when it's still comfortable to talk about, before you have time to ruminate on an offhand comment and become overcome or despondent.
    • Over a long enough time, dealing with the same distressing or aggravating issue can make it so that the smallest version of it elicits a huge and seemingly disproportionate response. Don't let the small things gnaw away at you. Bring them out into the open so they don't build up.
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    Hang in there. You may feel yourself go numb and quiet as a balm to deal in an uncomfortable social situation, but don't let yourself be defeated. Try and take a quiet moment to see the situation as it really is. You're probably not debating nuclear disarmament deals before the U.N. You're in a passing, emotionally stressful moment.
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    Distance yourself, literally. Physically excuse yourself from the situation as easily as you can. It may prove more appropriate to slip away unnoticed, but if you're in conversation at a social event let someone know you're going to step away for a moment; this token gesture of normalcy can help stabilize your perception of the situation, especially if this was a situation in which you felt embarrassed or vulnerable.
    • "Getting some fresh air" or "going to the bathroom" are both time-tested excuses. Considering the ubiquity of smartphones, you won't even need anything beyond a gesture toward an iPhone screen to indicate why you need to step away.
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    Accept that working on it is progress in and of itself. It's not about embracing unpleasant feelings, but about accepting how small of a moment that feeling was, and that you're moving past it; you'll move past it every time, because there's no other option.

Part 3
Taking the Initiative to Have Better Days

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    Assess your social networks with honesty. If you can expect certain family members, co-workers, or situations to negatively impact your mood, address the situation. If a friend’s casual references to your weight, cooking, or life choices constantly cause you to feel distressed and oversensitive, talk with your friend about the issue or make an active decision to disengage from them.
    • This goes for your social media networks too. Hide problematic status posters from your news feed on Facebook, and mute on Twitter when specific users work you up (or get you down). Both of these functions are undetectable for the other party.
    • Speak honestly with your friends and loved ones, but understand that speaking about the issue may elicit emotional responses from all parties. Use your coping techniques, and approach the situation understanding that this may be sensitive for them, too.
    • Avoidance as a strategy is not a useful one. It typically causes all the negative emotion and anxiety stemming from the situation to grow only larger in your mind. [4]
    • A distinction should be made between avoiding a problem and distancing yourself from one, however. Avoiding is an attempt at ignorance which is doomed to fail, while distancing is an active choice to remove a problem from your life.
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    Don't retreat inside yourself. Bottling up your feelings to become some stoic, distant, is replacing one issue with another. That grass is not greener.
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    Pursue hobbies. Doing what you love to do busies the mind in fulfilling ways, and is an important part of all self-care. The importance of enjoying yourself and disengaging from stressful situations cannot be overstated in approaching emotional issues. [5] It’s all too easy to be sucked into a downward spiral when you feel you have a problem with yourself.
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    Engage your body and mind with yoga. Physical activity has long been known to have a positive effect on outlook and mood, and the benefits of meditation for dealing with emotional issues (and even pain) are immense. [6] You don’t necessarily have to pursue organized classes, but the routine and community of formal instruction can provide additional benefit for a troubled psyche.
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    Seek support. People who are there for you when you’re feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed are invaluable. Sometimes you only need to vent to a friend to see how silly your stressor was.
    • What advice would you give a friend? Approaching your issue as a caring—but unaffected—person helping their friend could shed new light for you.
    • It’s not unusual to feel like a burden when you’re offloading yourself onto others, but self-pity and constant apologies are unhelpful. If you ever feel like this, you just need to make efforts to ensure the relationship doesn’t feel one-sided.
    • Having multiple platonic relationships with whom you can offload to helps to keep from having all of the inherent emotional workload fall on one person, especially if that one person is a significant other.


  • If you're suffering from post-traumatic stress, that goes beyond the scope of this article. Avoiding stress triggers in such cases is recommended. [7]

Article Info

Categories: Emotional Health