We've all been there: You're having an argument with someone and somehow it escalates to yelling, word twisting, and too many feels for one conversation. You don't know how you got there, but you do know that you wish things hadn't escalated so much — which is why it may be useful to turn to some pointers from the Harvard Business Review's guide on keeping calm during a conflict. It's a thing we all think we'll be capable of doing until the argument to end all arguments comes along. At the end of the day, we are emotional creatures — but that doesn't mean we can't manage them effectively with a few useful techniques.
To understand how to diffuse an argument, it's important to first understand the way your brain works when you're fighting. Anger is regulated in the amygdala, and when the amygdala perceives a threat, it releases an onslaught of hormones including adrenaline, which primes you to fight, and the stress hormone cortisol. Your heart rate becomes faster, your thoughts become more disconnected, and your throat might even constrict, all of which compromises your judgement overall, thereby making you more impulsive and prone to saying things without really thinking them through. Sound familiar?
But while it may not be easy to will our bodies into stopping cortisol and adrenaline production in times of high stress and anger, there are certainly ways to manage it so it doesn't get out of hand. Check out these four science-backed tips to curb your anger and keep them in mind next time you're getting worked up (especially around the holidays).
1. Be Aware of Your Own Anger Responses
For me, anger physically manifests itself as hot flashes and a quicker heart rate. Learn the things that trigger your anger and then learn how your body translates the hormones — being in touch with your anger so intimately could help you dilute it, according to the Harvard Business Review.
While the previous helps you understand your anger, breathing actually helps you stop it: Breathing deeply halts the production of cortisol and adrenaline, according to research. Granted, when your racist aunt is talking about why Trump is the best candidate, you might think unleashing your anger might be a better idea... but it's usually not.
3. Don't Shout
Research shows that shouting prevents you from thinking clearly; furthermore, it's a very serious trigger for some people. If you want your argument to have a clear, well-communicated resolution, raised voices will never get the job done — shouting is perceived to be a very clear attack. Try to keep your volume levels moderate, as if you're having a regular conversation with the person. When you stop shouting, the conversation will become significantly more coherent over the course of a few minutes.
4. Don't Bring Up the Past
If you're having an argument with your partner about how she treated you at her family holiday party, don't bring in previous moments she did that or cite past fights. Try to focus on what's going on in the moment in order to prevent the situation from escalating; if needed, bring up the past fights at another time, when you're not already fighting, so you can resolve them in a less heated fashion.
Check out more tips from the Harvard Business Guide on calming your brain during a fight and prepare to conquer those pesky extended relatives at your upcoming holiday parties.