In the heat of an argument, it can be hard to calm down and stop yourself from acting irrationally. It’s happened to the best of us- we become upset and before it’s all said and done- we’ve acted in ways that don’t align with our best self. But, the good news is, science shows us how to remain calm during a heated conflict.
Stanford Professor Robert Sapolsky says that the only time we should ever feel stressed is in the moments right before death. Stress is a response that is meant to save us from impending doom, by allowing responses to kick in from our brain that helps us escape. Since stress can wear us down, in the literal sense, it isn’t something we are supposed to experience at all times.
However, I don’t know about you, but sometimes, in the heat of a moment, the more we try to make ourselves calm down, the more stressed out we become. Thankfully, rather than just willing stress away, there are actual science-backed steps you can take to help.
1. Slow down your breathing.
According to a study published in the journal Cognition and Emotion, when researchers observed a large group of people, they found that with each emotion we feel, we have a different pattern of breathing. When they asked the group to change their breathing to different rhythms and asked them how they felt with each one, the responses matched their observations.
How do you breathe when calm? Notice that during a calm moment, and the next time you get upset, change your breathing to match it. It may take a moment to recenter, but slowing your breathing down to a calmer state has been recommended for ages as a calming technique, and apparently for good reason.
When we bond with others, our body produces natural opioids and oxytocin, which naturally calms us. During an argument or stressful situation, stop what you are doing and connect with the person you are talking to. Find common ground and allow yourself to bond with them, rather than working against them.
3. Show compassion.
It can be hard to try to muster compassion when stressed or faced with conflict, but compassion does have an evolutionary purpose, according to Berkeley University’s Greater Good Blog. In the blog, they discuss how when we feel compassion for others, our heart rate slows, and we immediately release bonding hormones. In turn, we feel calmer. If you are dealing with stress, try to have compassion for someone else, or even yourself. It will help you to calm down.
4. Relax your body.
When we are stressed, our bodies will tighten up. In turn, our brain produces stress hormones, because our body is signaling it to. An amazing calming technique is to relax your body. If you notice you are anxious or stressed, and your shoulders are scrunched up and your jaw clenched, unclench and unscrunch, it will help immensely.
It isn’t always easy to refocus when stressed, but it helps. Even if you have to walk away from the stressful situation, sit down outside of it, and refocus your attention, do it. According to Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, of Delphi Behavioral Health, “We don’t do our best thinking when anxious or angry; we engage in survival thinking. This is fine if our life is really in danger, but if it isn’t life-threatening, we want our best thinking, not survival instincts.
6. Get some fresh air.
When the air circulation in a room is poor- it can trigger our anxiety to flare. If you feel stressed, stuffy, or confined, get some air. Even if it’s just a few minutes, the fresh air will help your body to circulate oxygen, and it will help you breathe easier, so you can find a calm place again.
7. Say how you feel.
There is something cathartic about voicing how you feel out loud. If you feel like you are about to explode, don’t. Instead, say it. For example, you may have a million tasks to do and feel pressured. Say “I have so much to do today, it feels like there’s no way I could ever do them all. I feel so much pressure on me.” Then, accept the emotions. The stress and anxiety will not kill you, and it’s okay to feel stressed. Once you have acknowledged your emotions, try to make a plan to do the best you can to make it through the stressful situation.