Last week my son ran over 103 degree temperature twice in five days. He had an ear infection at the time, so the fevers were not a surprise. That still didn’t keep me from massively overreacting the second time his temperature soared. In fact, for two straight days neither of us left the house. I took his temperature every 10 to 15 minutes and counted down the minutes until I could give him his next dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. I got no sleep, and I couldn’t focus long enough to get anything done.

Basically, from the time he’s fever spiked to the time we could cut down to just ibuprofen every six hours (around 48 hours), I went a little crazy.

I am not proud of this or any other time I’ve overreacted. And as a writer and editor and publisher I’ve had my fair share of overreactions professionally as well. We all have. Who hasn’t wanted to quit writing after an especially harsh critique, rejection or review? Who hasn’t sworn never to speak to a fellow author ever again because of something posted online or said in a panel?

And although it’s impossible to never overreact or to stop an overreaction dead in its tracks, it never hurts to analyze what’s happening. There’s a reason you’re overreacting. Consider some of the following:

  1. Is there a history affecting your current reaction?
    Six months ago my son had his first (and hopefully only) febrile seizure. I can’t imagine any seizure is fun to watch, but my kid’s was the kind where when its over he took maybe, maybe one breath a minute, kept appearing to have no pulse, and basically appeared to have died a couple of times. Needless to say it was the worse five minutes of my life having my husband yelling at him, “Come on buddy, breathe” and “Don’t die” while I sat on the phone with 911 waiting for the ambulance. An EEG later, and everyone is pretty convinced it was caused by a high temperature that shot up quickly.

    Obviously, this is why I now get jittery every time his temp goes over 99.5 and start almost panicking when he’s over 102. Of course, knowing why I’m overreacting doesn’t actually stop me from reacting that way. More’s the pity.

  2. Are you overreacting because this is something you have an emotional connection with?
    I care very deeply about my son. He is, to quote a parenting book, “emotionally priceless.” I overreact to his fever because I care. I do not overreact to the wilting of our shrubs in our Texas drought because I do not particularly care about them.

    If you are overreacting to something someone said about your work, you are probably very attached to it. This is both good and bad. Good because it means you care about your work, which you should. Bad if it means you can’t see any other viewpoint.

  3. Is your overreaction something you are going to have to apologize for later?
    Well, since I lost two full days of productivity, I had to apologize for missed deadlines. This however is pretty minor. If you overreact by getting into an online flame war with someone, that may be something that’s a lot harder to bounce back from.

And of course, that’s what makes overreactions such a problem. Overreactions themselves aren’t that big of a deal. They let you know that you care deeply about something and perhaps have some kind of history you need to reconcile. The problem, though, is with the consequences. I realize that we can’t help sometimes overreacting. The key is to minimize the effect this has on our personal (and writing) lives.