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A Guide to Having Better Meltdowns

7 ways to increase control and decrease the damage you do when you lose it.

Key points

  • During this time of year, people are more prone to meltdowns happening since holidays trigger stress.
  • Everyday feelings can trigger meltdowns—fear, loss, anger, anxiety, hunger, perception of having been wronged.
  • You can slow down or circumvent a meltdown altogether.
  • When you stop and question a behavior, it slows the momentum.

Everyone has meltdowns—times when you just lose your cool or temporary control. A meltdown can take the form of screaming, yelling, cursing, crying, throwing things, punching things, or saying mean and toxic remarks to someone you care about. Some people have meltdowns often while some people have meltdowns infrequently, but everyone has them.

But what brings on a meltdown? Most often, even before an immediate trigger, there are feelings of fear, loss, anger, anxiety, hunger, the perception of having been wronged. These days, meltdowns seem to be on the rise.

Surviving these pandemic years have left people with little emotional reserve. Most energy was spent on survival or denial, and all sorts of triggers have been in great supply: fear of losing income, your job, your home, fear of not being able to meet financial responsibilities, losses through death, the ending of a relationship, many people in society have been touched by one or many of these factors over the past three years.

The holidays add another stressor: during this time of year, people are more prone to meltdowns. Holidays trigger stress in many ways, perhaps as a result of rushing around, doing all sorts of holiday preparations, comparing your life to others, being away from family, being estranged from family, not being able to afford gifts, or feeling lonely and sad. All these have the potential to trigger a meltdown.

My focus as a therapist is how to possibly have more control over your own behavior, how to do it “better,” with fewer consequences. Everyone gets upset, but some people create a fallout worse than the outburst itself. Violence, whether it is physical or verbal, should be avoided at all costs.

Meltdowns seem to have lives all their own. Our actions can feel almost involuntary, with a momentum difficult to stop. But when you stop and question a behavior, it can slow down the momentum. There are other ways, too. Here are some tips for how to minimize the fallout, slow down, or possibly circumvent a meltdown altogether:

  1. Understand your triggers: Think about a recent meltdown. Try to recall what might have been your trigger. Find some quiet, alone time to think about what happened. Could something else have been bothering you more?
  2. Who was the recipient of your outburst? Is there someone with whom you seem to lose your cool often? Ask yourself, “why them?” Sometimes, losing your cool happens in the presence of someone who is “safe.” Give that some thought.
  3. Are you doing enough to take care of yourself? Perhaps you’re overcommitted, overworked, or not implementing necessary boundaries with others. It might be time for some self-care, time off, or setting boundaries in relationships.
  4. Watch what you say and to whom: Are your meltdowns a cry for change or an attempt to get some unmet needs met? Give some serious thought to what you might be trying to communicate through your meltdowns.
  5. Take time to step back and observe your own behavior: Meltdowns do not necessarily have to be involuntary. You can learn to control what you’re aware of. Take a minute to ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" and, "What else could be bothering me?"
  6. Plan what to do when a meltdown happens: You can make an agreement to have the “safe” person leave the room when you’re having a meltdown and return when you’ve cooled off. Knowing that there will be a time when you’re “cooled off” can give you the perspective of your own “out of control” having an endpoint.
  7. And finally, if your meltdowns are often, consider seriously working with a therapist. You deserve to lose it less and enjoy your life more.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

More from Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
More from Psychology Today