Stop. Breathe... Choose

When we don’t deal with our baggage, it can lead to reactions from our point of pain.   Sometimes the baggage we’ve been hauling around can dictate our reactions to people. 

Anger, being a common expression of reaction, is often thought to be the ‘mask of fear’.  Whether it is anger coming from a person toward you, or anger that is rising up within you, it’s wise to ask yourself the question, ‘what’s the fear behind the anger?’  

Now I admit, I’m the fiery one in my relationship; at times I can go off like a cracker! (not proud of it) Thankfully I have a partner who has learnt to give me the space to get things off my chest, regardless of how irrational it may seem to him (I can’t believe I said that!) and my husband Donald will often help me by asking me, sometimes midstream rant, by saying “Robbi, what are you frightened of?”   Well more often than not I will get an answer immediately, “I’m afraid of…” (and sometimes that’s just as irrational) but what happens in that instant is the anger dissipates, the underlying fear is exposed and can no longer be fuelled.

Now not everyone has someone who’s around to gently ask the ‘what are you afraid of question’, so in order to help ourselves, here’s a technique that I use; it’s simple but powerful.

Stop.  Breathe…choose.    Stop, long enough to deliberately Breathe slowly and deeply.  The ‘stop’ releases the tension in our bodies, the breath fills the brain with oxygen and relaxes the body, and in that moment we have the opportunity to Choose how we respond.  Now here’s the key that I learnt from Six Seconds – the Emotional Intelligence Network. When we’re emotionally triggered our brain gets ‘hi-jacked’ and the impulse is sent straight to the amygdala and bypasses the cortical brain (the rational part!)  What we need is to switch out of the amygdala by doing some ‘high order thinking’, like maths, language, music or analysis, - recite the 13 x tables backwards if you will,  it only takes a few seconds to access the cortex.   By actively engaging the cortical brain we reconnect with rational thinking and can then choose to respond rather than react.

Victor Frankl in the book Mans Search for Meaning writes, “Between stimulus and response, there is space.  In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom”.

Next time you feel a rant coming on, try Stop, Breathe…Choose.