Brain and Body

Neuroscience Tips to Remain Calm in an Argument

January 8, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

One cat hissing at another
Photo credit: Found Animals Foundation/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

These could save you from blurting out something you’ll regret later.

Whether it’s an argument with a parent, friend, coworker or a significant other, things can get a little too heated sometimes if the conflict isn’t handled properly. Even when the argument is over something as simple as whose turn it was to take out the garbage, it can escalate.

Keep these anger-diffusing tips in mind, and you’ll have a much better chance at keeping your cool in a fight:

1. Focus on what the other person is really trying to say

Instead of automatically taking everything personally, try to figure out what the other person is really trying to say. It can be easy to get lost in the slew of accusations or curse words, but stepping back and seeing the bigger picture might help you gain a better understanding of the other person’s point of view. This will help you respond in a more reasonable manner instead of lashing back with accusations and angry words of your own.

2. Don’t raise your voice

According to an expert in emotional fitness, Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D, the volume of your voice can make all the difference in an argument. It sounds silly, but he writes for Psychology Today, “It's amazing how issues of hurt feelings or differences can be resolved with a whisper. I counsel couples who are yellers to only communicate with a whisper and it greatly reduces the anger factor in their relationships”

So take it from the expert — try to argue as quietly as possible!

3. Pay attention to your body posture

Your body language can make a huge difference in an argument. Maintain a tall and poised posture, but avoid aggressive body language like crossing your arms, balling up your fists, or tapping your feet. Hostile body language can end up offending the other person even if that wasn’t your intent.

SEE ALSO: 5 Ways to Trick People into Doing What You Want

4. Breathe

This is more of an obvious one, but deep breathing has the ability to calm you down. Try to breathe slower and deeper than you typically would. According to Livestrong, “Breathing slowly and mindfully activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body.”

5. Exit an argument earlier than you think you need to.

You know yourself and your body better than anyone else, so once you feel yourself tense up and your thoughts start to boil, walk away. Susan Heitler, Ph.D, leader of a web-based relationship program, advises that even when your anger is at a level three on a scale of 1 to 10, by the time you’re past a 4, leaving an argument will become increasingly difficult. By then, you’ll be worked up and adamant that you need to prove your point, and stubbornness will steer you away from remaining calm.

6. Think of something calm or funny

After a spat, Heitler advises to think of something that will make you laugh out loud or something that will help calm you. She suggests to close your eyes and imagine yourself on a beach — anything that will give your brain a break from the angry sensations and restore your body with calmness.

7. Don’t bring other issues into the argument

Focus on one issue or your brain will go in overload mode. As Goldsmith calls it, “stockpiling” or “bringing up issues from the past to use as a hammer,” never turns out well. Deal with one issue at a time, and if there’s problems from the past that you still aren’t over, resolve them another time. Angrily discussing multiple different issues at once will certainly increase your chances of losing your cool.

It can be hard to think of all of these brain-calming techniques in the midst of a heated argument, but practice makes perfect. If you end up boiling over in an argument, try and reflect on it afterwards and think about what times you could’ve used one of these tips to remain calm.

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