Anyone who’s ever had anything to do with a toddler knows about temper tantrums: screaming, crying, refusing to move with feet and hands drumming on the floor, and destroying anything around them that they can reach because they’re not getting what they want. What happens when we’re faced with a toddler tantrum? Reactions can involve an impulse to run, anger, shame or embarrassment, shouting back, telling off, ignoring, giving in, bribery, distraction – anything we can think of to reduce the upset, the sheer noise and the destruction.
Most of us grow out of this all-encompassing level of reaction when our will is thwarted, but we may still throw a ‘grown-up’ version of a tantrum when what we want to have happen doesn’t happen: snapping back, raising our voice, and reacting in the heat of the moment to let our feelings out.
Have you ever considered the impact of your grown-up tantrum on those around you? What reaction are you triggering when you get angry and upset, shout or make highly cutting remarks? What’s your reaction when someone does it to you?
While it may feel good to ‘let your feelings out’ in the moment, in practice it’s counter-productive. Not only does letting your anger out in fact fuel your rage and upset, it’s also highly destructive to relationships, and can build an atmosphere of fear or avoidance. It can result in people telling you what you want to hear, rather than being honest about what’s actually happening. So potential problems and issues are not tackled proactively, but left to fester until they are much more difficult to address.
On the flip side, people who stay calm and focused under stress are more respected and seen as people we can trust and rely on. They’re the ones we turn to in a crisis, ask for advice, and view as leaders, whatever their official role. Such people have developed strategies to deal with becoming overwhelmed by their emotions. They can regulate their reactions to help them think more clearly, be more creative, and consider a wider perspective when making decisions. They engage more strongly and are more open to growth and learning as well as connecting to others. This means they choose more rational and effective responses to situations, make better decisions, and work more effectively with others.
Here are three ways we can build this level of emotional control, so we can keep calm and carry on, whatever the situation:
- Stop and take a few deep breaths. There’s a reason why this is a well-known approach to emotional turmoil. Taking deep breaths doesn’t just calm the mind, it increases oxygen flow to the brain and induces a physical ‘relaxation response’ in the body, counteracting the ‘fight or flight’ response. You can practice deep breathing pre-emptively for a few minutes a day, or in the moment. Deep breathing helps reduce the symptoms of stress not just long-term, but immediately.
- Identify your triggers. A strong emotional reaction often means that something we really care about has been threatened. Reflect on what triggers you, and what your underlying belief might be. For example, if someone didn’t deliver what they said they would, you might feel they don’t respect you, or don’t care enough about the job. Then consider what other explanations there might be – perhaps the person doesn’t have good time management skills, was let down themselves by a colleague, or had an unexpected higher priority demand on their time. Make a note to remember these possibilities in future similar situations, as this may prevent you from getting as triggered.
- Practice self-compassion. We often react emotionally when life doesn’t go as we had planned. If you have an unwanted emotional reaction to a situation, remember that things rarely go according to plan, and remind yourself that you’re only human. Treat yourself kindly, with compassion, as you would a good friend. A self-compassionate reaction is associated with greater emotional resilience and more caring relationship behaviour, along with less narcissism and reactive anger.
In our webinar on 29th September we’ll discuss more about this and other secrets to gaining competitive edge while mastering your potential for happiness and success.
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