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Avoid your ’emotional tipping point’


  • We all have ’emotional tipping points’ where we shift from a specific issue to having a globalised ‘problem’.
  • Everyone’s tipping point and how they get there is entirely unique.
  • There is a lot we can do to improve our lives by managing our ‘tipping points’ and how we allow things to build up to them.

Emotional tipping points:

How do you determine how much time you have to spend worrying about things that haven’t happened before you allow yourself to tip over into anxiety?

How many times or how strongly must your borders be crossed before you kick off a full blown bout of anger or rage?

How many times do you have to feel sad before you allow yourself to tip over into calling yourself depressed?

If we want to break the cycle of emotions leading to powerful and unhelpful feelings and labels beyond the tipping point there is a lot you can do to better control what happens. You can intervene and make a real difference to your experience.

Consider Gordon and Barbara. Both work in the same office, and at deal with the same situations. At one point, Gordon reaches his tipping point – he feels he can’t cope any more – but Barbara can keep going. What is going on?

We cannot know what is going on for Gordon or Barbara at home, or how each responds to their circumstances differently. Everyone is unique, and they are both likely to have different emotional baselines.

Emotional baselines:

Consider that anyone can think about the future and worry, without getting anxious. People can also face into challenging experiences that push their buttons but never allow it to kick off into unrestrained rage.

For any person:

  • They have a unique way of judging an individual event for its meaning and emotional loading.
  • They have a different ‘tipping point’ level that things have to build up to before it shifts from a specific feeling to a globalised idea or label.
  • They have different coping skills and responses.
  • They have different baselines
  • They have lots of other stuff going on in other parts of their lives.

Gordon and Barbara could therefore seemingly suffer the identical series of events and end up with different emotional outcomes. For example, Gordon could see his circumstance as hopeless and helpless, whilst Barbara can manage what they face and is able to cope.

The problem with emotional ‘compounding’:

Often it is not a single experience that sets people off into spirals of emotion and negative labelling, but rather the build up of a number of events, or a continuous string of events that tips them over their ‘tipping point’. Things can add up at home, in relationships and at work to ‘compound’ negative feelings.

When we allow ourselves to see individual events in different parts of our lives as somehow linked, or the intensity of a negative experience remains unresolved, it allows the emotions to compound. Separating the individual events or situations can allow them to be considered as unique events, allowing the person to return to baseline rather than compound the experiences and advance towards their tipping point.

If Gordon can see what is going on at home separate from the stresses of work, he may be able to deal more effectively with each rather than have it becoming a global, overwhelming situation that pushes him over his tipping point.

What can we do?

Individuals can intervene between their baseline and emotional tipping points in a number of ways:

  • They can reflect on the true nature of the event – is it separate to other things and can it be deal with in this way?
  • They can reflect upon the emotion applied to each event – is it really worth this level of emotion or distress?
  • They can build their resilience – by being able to tolerate greater levels of experience, people can push their tipping point further away. They can therefore tolerate more before ‘tipping over’.
  • They can actively seek to resume their baseline – working to ‘let things go’ after they have been dealt with can allow a person to settle back to baseline and avoid compounding errors.
  • They can actively do things to shift to baseline – creating positive experiences and seeking enjoyment and excitement in moments can be a powerful antidote to negative feelings that may be building up. Actively doing things that reverse the ‘negative build’ can make a significant difference in bring people out of the negative and into positive emotional territory.

What is your most vulnerable emotional tipping point?

What can you do to help yourself avoid it?

What could you do to support someone else who is struggling?

Finding ways to help yourself manage your emotional tipping points can be valuable in times of change and uncertainty.  If you feel that you are stuck in negative emotional cycles, then reach out to see what we can do to help.