Recently I was at a talk where someone said emotions take 60 seconds to pass through the brain…while that might be true of some emotions, it is not true of all. Take ANGER for example. Oh yeah, that bad boy throws a fit.
How does anger respond in the brain?
The bad news…when we become angry, like really, really angry, think HULK angry, our cerebral cortex, or thinking part of the brain, is bypassed. The limbic system, or emotional center, is considered more primitive. Okay, so to grasp this, Hulk center equals primitive thoughts, rational thoughts equals Dr. Banner. Yes, I am a geek, but this works. Back to the brain.
The data that we get from the outside world passes through our amygdala, where it decides whether to pass it on to Dr. Banner or the Hulk. So basically, during the fight or flight event, the amygdala goes into action without thinking of the consequences as it doesn’t have to. This reactive incident has come to be known as an amygdala hijacking…or in geek terms, Hulking out.
What happens next?
During the Hulking out, or amygdala hijacking, the hormones flow freely. A surge of energy follows preparing us for flight or flight…and of course, during a Hulk moment, what do you think you are going to choose? Wellll, you don’t actually choose right then. Unless you have your anger under serious control, during those moments, what the person says or does is not controlled by Dr. Banner…it is controlled by Hulk who smashes first, thinks later. Unfortunately, the impact of these hormones that leads to anger can last several moments…or several days. Yup DAYS.
According to research, on average, it can actually take 20 minutes for a person who has experienced an angry state of HULK to calm and move from functioning from the emotional area to the thinking area of the brain, thus turning back to Dr. Banner.
Hulk smash? No. Stay calm.
As a kid growing up in the 80’s, yes, you guessed it, I watched The Incredible Hulk. Bill Bixby and the awesome Lou Ferrigno, who as a young girl, was scary to watch on T.V. Ha. My dad was frequently thought of in our house as the Hulk at times too. He never ever remembered what he said when angry. Yes, I still love my dad, but it needs to be referenced that I did grow up with someone frequently Hulking out around me. My brother and I both can get angry fairly fast as well. So how do you learn to stop the immediate rush of hormones?
Tips to tame the Hulk:
- Stop and breathe. Just 3 short breaths and remember you are currently NOT in control of your thoughts…which means your mouth.
- Use a code word for your family which seriously tells them not to push your buttons right now. I need a moment works as well. Or “Go outside right now. NOW”. I need some air. That might work for your kids. If it is a spouse, move away from them and tell them that they need to leave you alone to process your anger for a while, and you can revisit this later.
- Get some exercise or yoga. It is well-known that exercise increases serotonin and endorphins. Why is this important? Endorphins and serotonin are important chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are manufactured in your brain and affect your mood, energy levels and overall well-being. remember that burst of energy you are going to get up there ^^^ as the Hulk? Use it here instead.
- Stick with “I feel…” statements during this time and let people know how something made you feel…not blaming, but stick strictly to feelings.
- Use humor to diffuse the situation if you can…quick tell me a joke. This doesn’t always work, but it helps my teens. They smile and then we try very hard to move past whatever it is. If we give the anger somewhere to go, it has less control over our brain and we return to thinking faster.
A few other tips can be found in my grounding article, as that works well with people who are processing many emotions that might not even be theirs. Check out Learning to control your highly sensitive emotions as well. Sometimes we realize that we are reacting to emotions or even channeling other emotions around us thus bringing us to whatever level the other person is functioning at. Take the time to remember you are not always in control, and use the tips here to get your Hulk state calmed down.