Reactive Solutions

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

How many of you have taken a chemistry class? If so, the photo may look familiar to you.

Those chemical reaction moments were, for me anyway, the highlight of high school chemistry class. I remember vividly that my chem teacher would assign us unknown solutions with instructions on how to combine them. From that little bit of information, if we succeeded in not blowing anything up, our goal was to identify what we had created by the type of chemical reaction we witnessed. I was reminded of these scary, confusing, suspenseful, and yes even thrilling moments because my granddaughters and I are undertaking chemistry lessons in their home school curriculum. I have no doubt that they will be as thrilled as I was with whatever they produce…as long as we keep the house intact.

Adrenaline & Cortisol Gone Wild

Even our human bodies undergo chemical reactions constantly, but thankfully we don’t blow ourselves up! Although, in the face of a human reaction to something like anger, or stress, excitement or pain our bodies react chemically and for many of us the reactions may be surprising. In thinking about anger specifically, even my own angry reactions, I’ve come to realize that blowing up isn’t a far-fetched idea at all.

That sort of *blow up* is a reactive behavior. Depending on the triggering element and personality there may be small sparks or an outright eruption. As someone who finds taking a pragmatic approach to difficult or unexpected moments keeps me mostly in a balanced state of mind I usually don’t experience the extreme. That’s not to say I’ve never blown up, but it’s rare. I grew up stuffing my anger down, finding it easier (I thought) to choose avoidance. Those choices followed me into adulthood and only exacerbated an already unhealthy marriage. When the marriage ended so did my commitment to waiting for the reactive phase to kick in.

Proactive vs. Reactive

I’m grateful that by nature I tend to stay balanced- at least outwardly. I’ve slowly learned to tune into my body’s reactions to anxiety, stress and anger: faster breathing, quicker pulse, flushed skin and tension throughout my body. When I feel the tell-tale signs beginning my first thoughts now focus on these actions:

  • Step back, or even better if possible, completely away
  • Breathe deeply, preferably with eyes closed
  • Release the tension in my upper back, drop my shoulders, and mentally remind myself to let go
  • Try to find a distraction and refocus

Managing those initial and often overwhelming emotions then allows the slightly more rational and thinking side of myself to decide how I want to process the anger in a better way and proceed. I admit to being a “work in progress” and not always a successful one at that. The more I practice the more I understand that avoidance of conflict is merely a temporary solution and one that could still lead to a blow up down the road. Ultimately I would rather find the ability to always actively listen and find real solutions or at least a pathway to a better level of understanding.

“The greatest remedy for anger is delay”

Thomas Paine

I encourage you to join me on my personal blog Closer to the Edge, where I write about a broad range of topics including my foibles and opinions while moving forward through the second half of life.


28 thoughts on “Reactive Solutions

  1. I like your advice for how to handle your emotions. I know learning to not react to disturbing things is a life skill. I realize I do occasionally react, but overall I try to be proactive. Plus there is a saying… revenge is a dish best served cold. Not that I’m vengeful, but there’s truth in that saying. 😉

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    1. I think I delineate a bit between simple frustration/mild anger and all out “I’m darn good and mad right now”! Those second types of reactions come along so suddenly it seems- just out of nowhere so thankfully they are rare. I’ve heard that saying and will absolutely say I get it Ally Bean! I will admit to some plotting and planning at specific times in my life… 😉

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  2. Have you been able to identify some specific triggers in your life Deb? I consider myself very laid back, takes a lot to get me fired up, but if I sense disrespect, I can feel the switch flipped pretty darn quick. Not saying that is necessarily a good thing..fortunately, it is so rare, (and random).

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    1. Yes, Doug disrespect is a great example and if it’s blatant I too can jump to react. Lying is one that also does it for me. Having someone look me in the face out boldly lie to me when I know the truth is a real trigger- and is just another form of disrespect. I’ve had encounters over topics that I am passionate about as well. You try to listen to all sides and points of view but clearly when the other side simply wants to stir something up and argue…I have been known not to play nice at that point.

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  3. Oh, the step back and breathe deeply. Good advice right there! I like what Ally and DM shared, too. I can let things simmer and all of the sudden I’m plotting, in my fired-up state, contemplating retaliation😉…but it’s not me at my best. Something I’m forever working on. I wonder if this is problematic, especially, for those of us who love words. I’ve had near and dear ones share that they don’t want to argue with me because I can overwhelm with heat and be “Vicki verbose”. Thank you for sharing your insights and strategies, Deb! 💓

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    1. OMG! Vicki verbose! I may need to join that club as I can get extremely wordy in heated moments- like if I say all the big words I know, and get them all into the same sentence then I have the magic ticket to claim victory in the issue! So glad I’m not the only one Vicki 🙂

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  4. I loved Chemistry class too! And I love how you tied the reactions to this great post on emotions – so fascinating the way you’ve pointed out the reactions in our own bodies. I love your formula for noticing what’s happening and then circling back after you’ve processed that initial reaction. You have me thinking more clearly about how to observe and pay attention to my own reactions. Thanks, Deb!

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    1. Yay, another chemistry nerd! I think we tend to forget that major emotions set off an entire chain of events inside of us that, if not tended to in reasonable ways will harm us more than we realize. This post was partly inspired by the major “we’re married” news the family received last fall and I’m so glad the remain calm mode kicked in immediately.

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  5. I met up with a friend yesterday whose husband shares some of the more traits that my husband has. She said she’s always amazed at how calmly I handle things with him and I laughed saying just last weekend I blew up. I just pick my battles carefully

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    1. Yes! Especially in the spousal relationship I think you have to pick and choose. It never hurts though to just take a moment to pause and regroup before words come flying out!

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  6. There’s so much good stuff here, Deb! It’s funny, because I’m not one that’s prone to all-out anger. It very rarely happens, but as I was reading DM’s question and your response, I realized I’d been angry just this week. It was incredulous anger (at the nerve of someone, but all the signs you mentioned were there). For me, it’s triggered by exactly the things you stated. Being lied to, and disrespect. And… also when someone tries to manipulate me. Which I feel is also a sign of disrespect. Almost like they think I’m not intelligent enough to figure out what’s happening.

    As a side note, it was fun reading about your grandkids being homeschooled and you doing chemistry with them. I was homeschooled until 7th grade (well, then again temporarily during high school, after being suspended one too many times). 😆 It’s really neat that you have that time together!

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    1. Thanks Kendra! Love the word incredulous and so descriptive of that utter shock and the “how dare you” moment! Manipulation is another and I think often it can be insidious until it blatantly hits you in the face. It does often feel like judgment regarding intelligence doesn’t it… The girls have been homeschooled now for about 3 years I think. It all started with the Covid restrictions when everything shut down including schools. I love science and it really gives me an opportunity to be with them on a regular basis, which I think they like as well! Now this thing about suspensions…. has there been a post about that!? Maybe a life lesson moment or two to share when you return to HoTM?? So glad you stopped to comment today, thanks!

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      1. Exactly so on the anger/manipulation part. And that’s awesome about the homeschooling. Your grandkids will look back on this time with you as a treasure (if they don’t already view it that way). As to the suspensions, they were really just the result of me being a rebellious teenager. 😝 I’ve never thought about life lessons to be shared from those days, but there probably are some, now that you mention it. I’ll have to think on that, and keep it in mind for when I’m back. Have a great weekend, Deb! ❤️

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  7. I also love the analogy between chemical reactions in the lab versus in our bodies, on an emotional-physical level. There is so much good stuff here, especially the idea of mindfully taking a step back to assess things and develop a calculated response, rather than reacting rashly.

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    1. I truly had to learn the hard way to not allow my mouth to open and crap to flow out. I think I have a little unconscious mantra circling in my head- bite your tongue, bite your tongue, save it for later- Also removing things that trigger volatile reactions helps. An ex-husband is one of those things… Thanks for reading today Erin!

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    1. Absolutely Janis! Those two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol really do go wild and influence so much of how our bodies function when they’re on overdrive. An example is people who stress eat- both hormones play a huge part in that cycle and help to pack on extra pounds. Isn’t that considerate of them! It’s the whole fight or flight response and anger is only one culprit. Add being ill (wacky immune system response) or sleep issues and it’s a blow up waiting to happen.

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  8. Delay and processing are definitely good; they are my strategies before hitting any anger-inducing situation head-on. I don’t bury feelings well, especially anger or worry. You already know this, right? I can be a fairly intense person but have mellowed with age.

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    1. Thankfully work is finished so my triggering mechanisms there are gone, and the other big one is out of my life as well! I know it can be hard to worry about loved ones and their decisions- and frustrating as well. Reacting abruptly is never good, but out of anger is the worst and counterproductive to any real understanding. It was always easier for me to practice with the smaller things first, get my words in order and then speak. I also give verbal warnings now too- as in “we need to talk about…” 🙂

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  9. “The more I practice the more I understand that avoidance of conflict is merely a temporary solution and one that could still lead to a blow up down the road.” Oh, I can relate! I have quite literally gone for YEARS, holding in my anger, but when I DO blow, it’s a true Richter scale chemical reaction 🙄🙄🙄 I have become better, lately, at expressing my anger as I go, but I must say, my family members who aren’t used to me expressing my own needs don’t always like this new me 😕

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    1. Yes Patti! I think there are many of us who hold things in, and as many reasons why we do that instead of giving ourselves the value and permission to be heard in non-confrontational ways before the big blow up comes along. I think I could easily get going on a tangent about social viewpoints and women and what is deemed okay for men while not for women (which I think has a lot to do with this topic as well) but that’s for another space. Honestly I think family may be the hardest group when it comes to judging positive attempts at change. They often have certain expectations of specific people and get rather put out if there’s any variance to the established norm. I hope that was a polite way to put that thought 🙂

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      1. VERY polite 🙂🤓🤓 And thankfully, in the case of me and my only sister, it IS bringing us closer, as we (very lovingly) navigate this new, healthier way of communicating. You are certainly right about social viewpoints and women: it’s how I was brought up 😕 It’s truly never too late to change though. I REALLY appreciated this post!!!!!! 🙏💕🙂

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  10. Realizing that I could be proactive rather than reactive was a big eye-opener for me! Of course there are still times when I slip up and react (hopefully not blow up), but I do try to step back, take a breath, and really think about why I’m feeling the way I do before I open my (sometimes big) mouth. It helps!

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    1. It really does Ann. It’s too easy to say hurtful things when you don’t take the time to stop and put things in perspective. I applaud you for keeping a cooler head most of the time!

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