Reactivity or Mindful Response?
The purpose of this activity is to observe yourself as objectively as possible, without negative judgment and criticism, to notice your level of reactivity to various stimuli in your environment, including interactions with people. Reaction is normal. You are looking for overreaction or levels of reactivity and their length and duration that cause unnecessary stress or suffering which compromise your wellness.
Which things trigger your immediate emotional reaction? (Write about these reactions as soon as you are able.) Which emotions or feelings came up and why? Be specific and brainstorm possible reasons for your reactivity and those specific feelings.
Reflect, in writing, on these situations where you reacted: immediately, without thinking, erratically, overly-emotionally, or irrationally.
Consider, in writing, whether such reactivity fostered your personal wellness or compromised it and to what degree.
Here are some examples to give you an idea of stimuli, levels of reactivity, and how to notice and reflect on conscious choice as it relates to stress, involving both mind and body:
- Someone chewing loudly next to you at lunch caused you to react with disgust almost immediately. Just notice your disgust and analyze why you are disgusted. What happened after your felt disgusted? Did you start thinking and judging the person? How did your body feel while responding to this situation? Did any or all of this cause you unnecessary stress? Get curious about your reactions.
- Someone cut you off in traffic or didn’t let you pass/go, so you reacted physically by slamming your brakes. Afterwards, your shoulders stayed tensed up and jaw clenched, and you felt irritated and angry, then disappointed thinking about how people ought to be kinder and more considerate in general. Did you notice your stress and consciously and deliberately choose to let it go, to relax your shoulders and unclench your jaw? Did you react with anger for an extended period of time? How long did the tension and reactivity stay with you? Did you choose to let it go quickly? Stay curious about yourself.
- Two people were talking and laughing loudly behind you while you were waiting in line to order your food at a restaurant and you felt annoyed and judged them as inconsiderate. How long did you feel annoyed and judgmental? Did you notice? Did you deliberately stop feeling annoyed, by choice? If so, how did you manage your feelings? Did you make a choice to stop feeling annoyed or did you merely get distracted by ordering and thinking other thoughts? Why would two strangers annoy you to the point that you would allow stress to compromise your wellness? Can you stay curious?
- You and a friend had an argument. You reacted when he or she “pushed your buttons.” Which sensitive button was pushed? Why? How might you have paused and responded more rationally, given some time to think and choose a more mindful response? Is it possible you overreacted, or was your reaction appropriate to the circumstances? Emotional reactions like sadness or anger are normal and natural; but to what degree? And for how long? And, how well do you manage your emotions or learn from experiencing them? Could you curiously explore the thoughts that may stimulate your emotions?
Know Thyself for Personal Ownership of Wellness
Being curious and inquisitive about your own reactions and responses to stimuli and stress can help you begin to take ownership and responsibility for yourself— your own behavior, rather than focusing entirely on the external stimuli, whether that is a person, event, or situation. Rather than blaming something or someone for your stress, you take control of what you can — yourself and your own response.