Ever heard of an amygdala hijack? Ever seen one? It's what happens in our brains when the amygdala, a small gland gets an urgent message that we're in danger, and it's time to shut down the thinking part of our brain and dump a bunch of neurochemicals to help us respond and survive the danger.
When allowed, the effect can be pretty dramatic. (Remember Lou Ferrigno as The Incredible Hulk?) Like in over the top anger and actions that we later regret and wish we could take back. So what is the best way to deal with anger when we feel it rushing throughout our bodies?
First, it's OK to be angry. There are many valid reasons to become upset. You've probably had a few already today. A major anonymous dent in your car. Getting blamed for something awful you didn't do. Noisy distractions in your office that keep you from concentrating.
But raw anger with no "brakes" or "speed bumps" can greatly alter our brain's ability to process a frustration productively. During an amygdala hijack, first coined by Daniel Goleman in 1995, thoughts are reduced from 6 per second to 2 per second. There is a decrease in working memory. More errors are made. We say and do things we later regret. Makes sense, since the thinking parts of the brain have effectively been shut down.
So, we need to press the pause button, find a safe way to cool down and get back into the thinking brain. Enter THE TIMEOUT. A temporary stepping away to breathe deeply (to help dissipate those neurochemicals in the emotional brain).
A helpful acrostic is HALT, or both what to do and when NOT to try resolving a volatile relationship situation: when you're Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
It's important to call a timeout for ourselves, NOT to put someone else in timeout. "John, why don't you go sit over there til your cooled off?" A timeout helps us cool off. "Hey, Carol, I value our friendship, and right now I just need a bit of time to think calmly. Can we take 10 minutes, please?"
The very next time you get angry, possibly even today, press the pause button, take a timeout and find ways to calm yourself. Usually 10 to 20 minutes are sufficient. Time very well spent.
Lavern & Ronda Nissley are co-directors of Encompass. Married since 1978, both enjoy coffee, riding their tandem bicycle and working together to build strong relationships.