Calming Your Brain During Conflict

Calming Your Brain During Conflict
This week’s Friday resource comes from Harvard Business Review (HBR) and offers ways to help calm your brain and body during moments of conflict.

Conflict is an inevitable part of life. When a conflict takes place, our brains and bodies often propel us into fight or flight mode. While this survival response is useful in life or death situations, it can potentially threaten our ability to move through conflict constructively and devise solutions that strengthen our relationships, both at work and at home.

Once our fight or flight mode is “triggered,” our bodies produce stress hormones that dampen our memory and make it difficult to be open to other points of view. What initially began as a disagreement suddenly turns into a perceived threat, and we may feel overwhelmed with both the negative thoughts and uncomfortable sensations occurring within us.

Fortunately, there are mindfulness-based steps we can take to prevent our survival response from causing us to lose control during our interactions. Per Diane Musho Hamilton, HBR, here are a few steps we can take that when practiced can help us remain calm when conflict arises:

Step 1: Stay present. “The first step in practicing mindfulness when triggered is to notice we are provoked. We may notice a change in our tone of voice, gripping sensations in the belly, or a sudden desire to withdraw. Each of us has particular bodily and behavioral cues that alert us to the reality that we feel threatened, and are therefore running on automatic pilot.

We have to decide to stay put and present, to be curious and explore our experience. For me, it helps to remind myself to relax. I have a visual cue that I use that involves my son. When I’m worked up, he has the habit of looking at me, raising and lowering his hands in a calming fashion, and saying ‘Easy Windmill.’ I try to reflect on this and it helps me calm down because he’s so charming when he does it.”

Step 2: Let go of the story. “This might be the most difficult part of the practice. We need to completely let go of the thinking and judging mind. This is a very challenging step because when we feel threatened, the mind immediately fills with all kinds of difficult thoughts and stories about what’s happening. But we must be willing to forget the story, just for a minute, because there is a feedback loop between our thoughts and our body. If the negative thoughts persist, so do the stressful hormones. It isn’t that we’re wrong, but we will be more far more clear in our perceptions when the nervous system has relaxed.”

Read the other steps and the rest of the article here.

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