Your brain on anger and 3 ways to snap out of it

patas-monkey-894149-mWhen we’re angry or scared our bloodstream gets flooded by adrenaline and noadrenaline. Both ready the body for physical activities. Also the cerebrum (‘higher’ thinking, like maths and language) – dials it down a notch several notches and leaves the cerebellum (motor control) in charge. That’s great when the threat is physical. But nowadays we’re usually angry or scared of non-physical stuff such as a co-worker questioning our judgement or a spouse grumbling about how we spend money. Bummer! Exactly when we need to think hard and use the best of our communication skills, we’re least able to do so, because our analytical capacities waved “Bye-bye” and walked out on us.

Fight, flight or play possum

This is commonly called the “Fight- or Flight-Response“, although there’s a third possibilty: Freeze. Incidentally, that last one is my reaction. I’m afraid to lose control over what I’ll say and maybe damage the relationship, so I keep quiet. The madder I am the quieter I become. I’ve only recently realized that this is a problem as it takes away the chance to clear the air in some sort of carthatic event and I don’t always return the next day to discuss it through. But I digress …

How can we get off of the anger and back into a brain state that allows reasoning?

Snap out of it!

Here’s a few first aid techniques to get the cerebrum involved again:

  • Breathe slowly and deeply
    Anger makes our breathing shallow and our chest constricted. Counteract by breathing consciously and taking in the oxygen goodiness (Inhale: 21 22 23 24 –  Hold – Exhale: 21 22 23 24)
  • Calculate 7×19
    The cerebellum can’t do analytical stuff, so the cerebrum gets reactivated if you solve equations
  • Can step out? Grin manically!
    Our mood influences our expression and vice versa: Lock yourself into a bathroom stall and grin like a maniac for about 2 minutes. It’s weird but it helps.

For the long term, exercising regularly increases stress resistance and helps to stay more serene.

Published by Corinna Baldauf

Corinna Baldauf has filled every Scrum role there is and then some. Currently she spends most of her days writing and occasionally facilitating retrospectives. She's interested in lean, agile, coaching, leadership & UX. You can follow her on Twitter, subscribe to her (Retromat) newsletter and buy her books.