Remember that I used the analogy that overreacting looks like vomiting your emotions on someone else and typically involves:
*Blaming someone else for how you feel
*Saying mean things that we later regret
But there is another important aspect that can help us respond with more emotional intelligence and less anger: breathing. You’ve probably heard that breathing can help, but I bet a few of you don’t know WHY it is so crucial to responding differently.
When we are triggered and want to lash out, we activating our fight, flight, and freeze response. Our brain reacts to daily stressors much like any other threat in the wild – if we don’t train it. Initially, our brains respond to stimuli in a similar fashion. Consequently, we need to bring our pre-frontal cortex (our higher- level reasoning side of our brain) on line to create the response we want.
One immediate way to call upon our pre-frontal cortex is to slow down and breathe. You can also close your eyes and start to tune into your senses. By slowing down, taking time to breathe, and tuning into our senses, these actions tell the lower brain that there must not be a threat. For example, we wouldn’t stop and smell the roses if a tiger was running towards us! Once we slow things down and allow our feelings, we can then access our intelligence and choose a healthier response.
This understanding of WHY breathing works has really helped me and my clients deliberately remember to do it in the heat of the moment to access greater brainpower.
So, in the heat of the moment when you want to lash out, bring your higher-level brain back on board by breathing and tuning into your senses. This will help you come up with alternatives to the passionate, or more aggressive responses we’re accustomed to in the heat of the moment that ultimately don’t get us what we really want in the end anyway!
Here is another technique that has worked well for my clients when they are feeling triggered and wanting to lash out: I have them close their eyes, breathe in and out SLOWLY 3 times, and come up with 3 actions they can take instead of lashing out. We call this the B3 method. Three breaths and three alternatives to help activate the pre-frontal cortex and respond more consciously.
The lower brain wants to react, so only by accessing the pre-frontal cortex will you respond in a way that keeps you connected to the ones you care about. Give B3 a try the next time you have a strong urge to react.
If you want to master this skill along with others, I invite you to send me a DM so we can talk.
Mind Your Strength,
Melanie Shmois, MSSA, LISW-S, is a licensed social worker, holding a Master’s Degree (MSSA) from Case Western Reserve University and a B.A. in Sociology with a minor in Spanish. After spending 2 decades helping others achieve their mental and personal goals, Melanie worked with Master Coach Instructor, Brooke Castillo, and became a certified Life and Weight Coach through the Life Coach School.