Temper Tantrums and Your Brain

Temper Tantrums and Your Brain

Last week we talked about a great trick to tame our temper. We used our creativity and imagination to “self-distance” from a situation and choose the way we want the situation 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.

OK, First, 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 two 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.

Now why does it do that? Seems we could use some logic when we are angry! Well, that would make sense, except for the fact that it takes about 3 seconds for the logic part of our brain to click on – about a nine hundred times slower than the amygdala. Now which part would you like to be in charge of saving your life? Bet you would choose 1/32 of a second.

Unfortunately, however, the amygdale is pretty dumb. Remember our soccer dad from last week? Well, his amygdale can’t really tell much difference between someone trying to hurt his child, and the umpire just throwing a red flag on the play. Either way, that amygdale is going off, and that dad is angry!

Now, here’s the super power! By STOPPING and RELAXING – taking a three second pause to breathe and push the pause button on our scene – we can effectively shut down that adrenalin pump and re-engage the logical part of out brain. When we do that, we can “self distance” ourselves and THINK of a better scene in the movie of our life – one that will give us the results we really want.

Those 3 seconds of self-control can make a huge difference in our lives if we use it every time we begin to feel a temper tantrum coming on. Try it!