Why some people are so touchy
Ever noticed how some people are touchy and can react easily to even the smallest thing? This might be a comment from someone, being too busy or little events that happen to us all like traffic, spilling our coffee, losing a document and so on.
The way we all handle things depends on our degree of reactivity and our temperament. Those of us with a relaxed temperament are less likely to become stressed and don’t sweat the small stuff so much. So when something happens they just take it in their stride. It’s not that they aren’t upset that they have spilt their coffee all over their desk, but they are more able to let it go and not get upset by it.
Others however can be reactive to higher degrees and can be viewed by others as highly strung, reactive, anxious, stressed or needing to chill out. These people are often always in a state of reactivity and it’s just the degrees that vary.
First of all, reactivity comes from the old survival instinct you probably have heard of – fight or flight. Fight or flight is a biological and evolutionary survival reaction designed to help us either stand up and fight the danger present or run away from it to be safe. In the days of living on the African Savannah this was especially relevant.
We needed that instinct so we could survive, not be eaten and also know which animals we could catch to eat. But today life is very different and not many people are in situations truly worthy of fight or flight reactions. Those situations that people experience today that are truly flight or fight reactions are events like car accidents, when our children are in danger or we are in immediate danger and the like.
When you are having a fight or flight reaction, your body dumps a huge amount of adrenalin into your system and this adrenalin is what will help your body either fight or run. When mothers have lifted cars off their children and performed seemingly super human feats, it is with the help of adrenalin. Adrenalin makes our heart pump faster, our senses become more acute and provides a state of nervous readiness so we can leap into action.
All the blood leaves the parts of the body that we don’t need in that moment (such as some of our organs, digesting our food and so on) and it is pumped into the periphery of our body like our arms and legs so it is at our disposal to use. Our thoughts also change, we are no longer thinking about dinner or work we have to do, our thoughts are laser focused on what we need for our survival.
During a physical fight with another person or in the process of fleeing, your body would ordinarily process and burn up this adrenalin so your system could then return to its normal state. Your nervous system will also be able to revert back from the highly activated state of the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic system which is our relaxed state.
But if you are having one of these adrenalin reactions just because you are stuck in traffic and late, annoyed with someone you have had an interaction with, anxious about something going wrong or frustrated with a task you are doing, your system is not able to process out the adrenalin and return your nervous system to its relaxed state. As a result you will be left feeling more stressed and agitated after every event and more jumpy, touchy and reactive as the day goes on.
We all have things happen in our daily lives that we could choose to get upset, stressed or worried about. What this means is there could be anywhere from 10 to 50 opportunities a day for you to get upset, stressed and more worked up about if you are prone to overreacting and going into these fight or flight reactions. If your first reaction happens on your way to work it sets up a pattern that can last until you get into bed that night. As you can imagine or know, this can leave people absolutely exhausted and at times even unable to sleep as their system is so alerted.
The more stressed, sick and tired people are, the more likely they are to be reactive. This is because it takes a certain amount of willpower in order for all of us to control our emotions and do what is socially acceptable and in accordance to our morals and values. But when we are tired, sick or already stressed about something else it’s hard to find that extra bit of energy needed to hold all our reactions down. So in those times we could end up fighting with our loved ones or lashing out at others simply as they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Figuring out why you are reactive will have huge benefits for your life and health. Think about did you learn it from a parent, does it keep you safe and protected or keep people at a distance? What do you get out of it? How can you start to change it? Asking these questions will help you begin to unravel your behaviour and begin to change it.
If you find you are around reactive people it can also help to look at your own reactions to them. Do they scare you or make you angry or anxious? Do you stand up to them or let them treat you however they want? Does it make you walk on eggshells around them? When you can use others around you to make yourself more resilient this can only be a good thing. The more you build up your resilience, the less you will be affected by the people around you.