Temper Tantrums & Your Brain
Description: In this episode, Melissa and Maribeth (from ADD Professionals) look at what happens to our brains when we are angry and explain how three seconds of self-control can change our lives.
In our podcast "Taming your Temper", we talked about a great trick to tame our temper. We used our creativity and imagination to “self-distance” from a situation - viewing the situation like the scene of a movie - and choose the way we want "our movie" to play out. So many times, when we are angry, we feel that we have no choice but to blow up. The “self-distancing” gave us our choice back!
Remember that all we had to do was STOP, RELAX and THINK. in order to get that distance, and rewrite how we want the scene to play out. Well, today we are going to tell you how that works at the cellular level, in your brain. Remember, we can retrain our brain out of bad habits – like a bad temper - and into better ones.
Let’s look at what happens to the brain when we get angry. Our amygdalas are two almond shaped parts of our limbic system that sense danger. They are put there to keep us alive. When they sense danger, they go off - “danger-danger-danger” - and they do three very important things.
1) They send a message to our adrenal gland to pump lots of adrenalin to our heart, lungs and muscles, so we can fight the danger, or run away from it – fight or flight! This is what gives our body that awful, fearful feeling that is the basis for most anger. It is extreme! It is very upsetting! It is also very fast! It happens in about 1/32 of a second and we really can’t control it!
2) Those amygdalas also shut down our prefrontal cortex – the logic part of the brain, right behind our forehead. The amygdala shuts it down because the pre frontal cortex is so complex, that it takes a whole 3 seconds to process - 900 times longer than the amygdala! It is too slow to save our lives. So it is shut off.
3) Finally, when we are upset, we breathe shallowly, forgetting to exhale, so every cell in our bodies becomes CO2 toxic. This is a poison - a threat, which triggers the amygdala even more, causing more adrenalin, more logic shut down, more CO2 toxicity and on and on and on in an unending loop of out-of- control anger! We are in trouble!
The worst part of the anger response is the fact that the amygdala is really dumb! It cannot tell the difference between a thought and reality. This is why we love horror movies! It can't tell the difference between a real monster and one we have paid $10 to see an a big screen. We get scared either way!
Sometimes, just a thought, a misunderstanding or an assumption can make us angry, but our amygdala believes it is reality. This can really get us into trouble at work. We can lose our temper about something really quickly rather than taking the time to work it out calmly and logically.
Now, here’s the super power! If we STOP and RELAX – taking a three second pause to breathe and push the pause button on our scene – we can effectively change that CO2 poison to oxygen, calm down the amygdala, shut down that adrenalin pump and re-engage the logical part of out brain. We can change that dangerous brain chemistry in just a few moments. When we do that, we can “self distance” ourselves and THINK of creating a better scene in the movie of our life – one that will give us the results we really want.
That 3 seconds of self control can make a huge difference in our lives. Just STOP RELAX and THINKevery time you feel a temper tantrum coming on. Try it!