How To Stay Cool In An Argument
What is your habitual response, or automatic reaction, when provoked, hurt, and/or let down?
Depending on the severity of the situation, of course, we may have a bodily reaction when our feelings are intense—shortness of breath, faster heartbeat, heated body temperature, dryness in the mouth, and you get my drift.
After we’ve calmed down, we may self-reflect and wonder how to stay cool in an argument.
The question is, more specifically, how to not respond with fight or flight, with our most primitive part of the brain, and rather in a calm way that activates our executive functioning of the brain?
Before I disclose the answer, I want to share something first.
Not sure if you’ve realized this, but why is it so common to react this way in our human nature?
Because it’s an ingrained habit in our brain.
As with all habits, they become automatic.
Our brain contracts habits to use short cuts, without working itself too much, identifying a trigger to then react automatically and the brain doesn’t have to think, or use any activity in the frontal cortex as revealed in fMRI scans.
I had a friend that was to stop by my home after work—a very short drive—and she called me an hour later to tell me she wasn’t even thinking and accidentally drove all the way to her home.
We all do this!
Life would be so difficult and exhausting if we had to think every time on the techniques and step-by-step process of our daily routines—brushing our teeth, getting dressed, driving, even walking!
I share this because we often feel shame after we react strongly when upset, but there is nothing inhumane about it.
We are just those that have not yet been taught how to handle ourselves when angry. As if we had never learned to ride a bike or drive a car.
Although, it’s rare to find an adult that doesn’t know how to ride a bike or drive a car, it’s common to find an adult that doesn’t know what or why they react with explosive anger.
We don’t receive much training for this in school.
Luckily, we are starting to become aware of this and soon will see some changes in the schools—I hope!
All to say, we need to retrain our automatic pilot.
We need to retrain our reaction when angry.
The key is NOT to wait until it happens, that’s too late!
There are practices to put in place for our brain to be relaxed and prepared.
These practices are called breathing and relaxation exercises.
Now consider this: If we practice these relaxation techniques, our brain makes a short-cut so it doesn’t have to think, thus making it automatic.
So I’m not talking about a temporary fix, but an upgrade in life.
Here are the rules:
- Practice at the same time, every day. Giving your brain a trigger to relax.
- The next time you encounter a reaction of explosiveness, self-reflect and write down the cues that triggers your emotions to set fire. Observe yourself.
- Once you find the triggers, practice imagining yourself reacting in the ideal way you’d prefer.
- When you get heated, stop immediately, take at least a 30 minute break (for your body to physically recover from fight-or-flight) and use at least 2 minutes to sit quietly and focus on your breath. Don’t use this time to prepare a rebuttal or think about how wronged you are. During this time you want to turn on the executive functioning in your brain, but you must relax in order to do that.
- If you want long-lasting results, these practices are to become part of your regular routine.
- It’s not a quick fix, it’s a permanent fix!
It’s almost seems too simple, or plain boring to do something like this.
I hear ya! It’s difficult to sit still, relax, and not think of other things, just focus on the breath.
It almost feels unnatural.
But, also does riding a bike. Or driving a car. Or, heck, driving a car in England, but I’m now getting the hang of it. Even though at first I was terrified.
At first impulse, I would reach for the seat belt from the wrong side, I would forget the shift is on my left, not right. In the beginning I had to focus and pay attention at all times that I was driving on the left side of the road. After a day of driving, I felt mentally exhausted.
So yes, these relaxation exercises may feel daunting and be mentally exhausting, but there is a bigger goal, a bigger reward!
As I’ve shared before, it was difficult for me to avoid bringing up an issue at night and I felt incapable going to sleep with unresolved conflict. Keeping my husband up at a very late hour.
I justified myself because I had been wronged, but this wasn’t getting the cooperation I needed. I was in fight or flight mode and wasn’t thinking rationally.
It’s been 7 years since then (that almost sounds like I’m speaking at an AA meeting).
I felt like a child. With no control of myself or the situation.
It completely changed the dynamics between me and my husband. He can trust me not to react harshly, or attack him as soon as I feel provoked.
It was easier for him to work on himself when I stopped placing all the blame on him for my anger.
It took us a solid 3 years to make new habits and set a high level of respect for each other, that it’s now become the norm.
There’s a certain level a peace no human should live without. Don’t you agree?
If you’re ready to dive in deeper, we have a program, Befriending Anger, that dives into this and more.