Does your body seem to set itself ablaze when someone cuts you off in traffic? Do your ears release toxic steam into the ozone layer when someone double charges you for your fuzzy sock purchase? Does your blood begin to boil when Starbucks puts milk into your coffee even though you specifically requested them to fill up the cup with black (it’s fine, I’m not still thinking about this egregious mistake three days later)?
Interrupt before you erupt
When you sense your body involuntary getting ready to perform a chokehold, yell “STOP!” in your head.
Interrupt that train of thought before it causes you to actually blow up. Anger is a physiological response, so taking the time to calm your body down can actually help your headspace cool as well.
After mentally halting yourself from escalating the situation, take a deep breath into your belly, and close your eyes if you feel comfortable. Then count to 20.
Arrange a scenery change
If you can, physically leave the space and distract yourself from the issue at hand. You can play a song that you like, meditate, or visit your favorite blog. Once you feel calm, objectively identify the issue and think of possible solutions.
Did your boyfriend forget to feed the dog again? Start leaving sticky note reminders for him on the front door. Did your son neglect to clean the kitchen like he promised? Arrange a time to explain why it was important that the space be tidy for the arrival of your guests.
Make sure you plan your response so as to remain logical, respectful, and calm during the confrontation.
Empathize before you criticize
When someone has frustrated or wronged us in any way, it can be incredibly easy to write off their behavior on their intrinsic faults.
We can say things like, “Oh, they behaved this way because they are a bad person,” or, “They are so lazy and irresponsible.
That’s why they made this mistake.” However, the actual cause of the behavior or situation is often more complex than what first meets the eye. We must attempt to truly see things from other people’s perspectives before we cast judgment on them for upsetting us.
Communicate, don’t speculate
The goal of our reaction to a disagreement should be to resolve the conflict, not to “be right.” For that reason, when we arrange to talk through our problems with someone, we should aim to truly articulate our concerns and reach a compromise, instead of attacking them for what they might have done.
Try not to guess about the other person’s perspective. Ask them for their take, hear it out, and come to a conclusion about the situation holistically, based on all of the information we now have.
Laugh, don’t sass
Using humor in an otherwise tense situation can actually be a very effective way to diffuse the negativity. A good way to introduce a joke is to grossly over-exaggerate the gravity of the situation.
If you’re getting very animated with someone, you can say something like, “We could literally be in a Charlie Chaplin movie right now if somebody just muted us and kept our gestures in.” Just make sure that your jokes are situational and that they don’t attack anyone.
With the seemingly-endless assortment of daily triggers in our busy lives, it can be easy to get carried away in our reactions to trivial (and non-trivial) matters.
If we take the time to slow down and evaluate every situation objectively, we might be saving ourselves and others from some pretty painful explosions.