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How To Stop Yelling (And Other Knee-Jerk Reactions)

Help me stop yelling at my kids, help me have less knee-jerk reactions,  help me stop reacting in the moment. Many people ask me how to stop repeating behaviors that seem to happen automatically.

To do this, a level of calm is required. Calm is the emotional space from which you can choose clearly what to do rather than be reactive or repeat unwanted behaviors. Modern living can severely challenge a person’s capacity to stay calm.

If you are regularly feeling overwhelmed and want to reduce yelling and other knee-jerk reactions, it is possible. Below are my five top tips for a calmer and less reactive life.

1.Deal with the cause of your knee-jerk reactions

It is important is to deal with what sits underneath your reactivity. Look at what is that is bothering you in those situations you yell or react in. Is there a pattern to it?  Are there skills you can learn or behaviors you can change that will stop the cycle happening? Do you need to change the way you think about a situation? If you hold beliefs that allow you to react in the moment such as “I can’t help shouting” or “I wouldn’t shout if they didn’t …..” they need to be addressed.  These beliefs let you off the hook and will increase the chance you will react.

2. Address the payoffs of reacting

Does the initial release that comes from yelling help you manage stress or feel satisfying? If so, this is probably part of the reason you repeat this behavior. These kinds of emotional payoffs can be hard to give up. You will need to practice giving up that short-term reward of relief and release for the long-term reward of acting in a way that is more consistent with the person you want to be.

3. Learn how to breathe to manage your physical stress symptoms

Learning to reduce your physical stress symptoms can help you feel calm enough to respond to difficult situations instead of reacting. Your body responds to perceived threat physically. Whilst you may have no need to run away or fight off your daily stressors, your body will respond as if it does. Your heart rate increases, your breathing gets shorter and shifts into the chest and your muscles tense just to name a few. Reversing this reaction with a slow breathing technique shifts you out of the stress response and into the calm part of your nervous system. My favorite breathing technique involves breathing in for 4 counts and out of 6 counts. Use a clock with a second hand to pace yourself in the beginning.

4. When overwhelmed ground yourself in the present moment

When you are stressed you may experience an overload of thoughts and feelings. This can feel very overwhelming and may lead to over-reactivity. At these times, ground yourself in your environment. Notice what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch in that moment. Or choose something, the pattern on your handbag, the sound of the breeze in the trees, the smell of cooking food. Focus on that one thing with your full attention until you feel less overwhelmed.

5. Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness teaches how to focus your mind on one thing, such as your breath or the present moment rather than on the content of your thoughts. People who practice mindfulness regularly experience reduced feelings of stress and anxiety. Mindfulness helps increase connectivity between your thinking, feeling and survival parts of the brain. This is good news because when there is greater connectivity between these parts of the brain, people tend to be less reactive and more mentally well.

You can yell less, feel calmer and be less reactive. Start using these strategies today. You can do it.

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How To Stop Yelling (And Other Knee-Jerk Reactions)

Nadene van der Linden MAppPsych

Nadene van der Linden is a clinical psychologist. Nadene consults in private practice specialising in parenting adjustment and trauma. Nadene developed Unshakeable Calm to help people live calm and confident lives using science based tips. See her website for free downloadable resources or join the Unshakeable Calm free facebook group today.

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APA Reference
van der Linden MAppPsych, N. (2017). How To Stop Yelling (And Other Knee-Jerk Reactions). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 15 Dec 2017
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