When something happens that angers you, your body reacts with adrenaline to feed your natural "flee or fight" instinct. As a grown up and parent, it is important to recognize those feelings as a cautionary sign. The same adrenaline designed to help you run from danger or fight to protect your children may be hampering your higher brain functions. It can take up to 20 minutes for your body to return to a steady state.
If you decide to do nothing in response to that stimulus that created those feelings for 20 minutes, you may find that your clear-headed self is much less upset than the adrenaline-addled version of your former self.
This may be most obvious in traffic. Have you ever wanted to just run into (or over) the jerk who cut you off in traffic? Your body does a good job of measuring risk, and you’ll get that jolt of adrenaline when something like that happens. If you respond angrily by honking, gesturing or worse, you may escalate the situation. If you simply let it go — and this may be hard for a few minutes — with that adrenaline coursing through your body to empower fleeing and fighting you are overriding the system. Once you do, the moment will pass.
Think about it this way, if you drive regularly, you probably have an experience like this once a week, certainly once a month. Over the years, that would add up to dozens or hundreds of times you’ve felt ready to really give it to someone. Chances are, you almost never do, and despite having felt ready to run over another idiot driver dozens or hundreds of times, you can’t remember many of those times with specificity. Once the adrenaline is gone, the event falls into its proper place in your memory. It’s gone. It doesn’t matter.
With your children, spouse, coworkers and friends, life is different. In that moment that your system launches the adrenaline rush, the person who triggered it is within your reach. If you act while you are in a heightened emotional state, you are likely to do and say things you’ll regret. The challenge is that your body needs time to calm down, time for the adrenaline to dissipate.
Find a way to give yourself some time. Optimally, you’ll get 20 minutes. That should be time for your system to return to an even keel. If after 20 minutes, you’re still wound up — maybe this isn’t a small thing. All the more reason for you to come back to it another time. If you are feeling calm and clear headed, you can likely see how insignificant it was. You’ll be happier if you never mention it. Just let the little things go.
Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.