You’ve been trying to get your point across, but it’s not getting through. It’s getting you frustrated, maybe a little offended, so you go for a different approach.
Now, concert-level volume has its place, like for saying, “There’s a bear behind you” or “Power line down.” But the big question is, how often do those situations come up? The answer is, rarely.
Next question: How often do you reach that intensity? “Too often” is that answer. You know that it doesn’t work. It never feels good. It never makes the situation better. You would just like to stop doing it.
It’s good to have that desire, but you need more to make it happen. What helps is to play detective to uncover your triggers, then set reasonable expectations, because underlying the yelling is stress, something that isn’t disappearing. The question, as Antonia Chronopoulos, clinical psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, asks, is “How do you regulate yourself in a tense situation?”
Start with the basics
Before you can stop, it helps to understand why we yell in the first place.
We could be in a debate and feel like we’re not being heard. We take it as an insult, get frustrated, and the brain’s limbic system sees it as a threat and sets off the fight-or-flight response.
Our blood pressure rises, breathing becomes shallow, and muscles tense up. Since our history factors in, we can start making assumptions. Adrenaline makes everything go faster, and our attention narrows. “When we’re in survival mode, we’re not thinking about creative solutions as effectively,” she says. “The prime directive is to defend, escape, or fight.”
It’s also not a solo act. We’re yelling at someone, and our attempt to control the situation triggers that person, setting off the aforementioned emotional and physiological reactions, and possibly creating a shoutfest (which is anything but festive).
And there’s one more part, which gets overlooked: the flight element. If we decide to not yell and end up holding anger in, the same process is still taking place: the tense muscles, shallow breathing, narrow focus. We might not be making a lot of noise, but we’re far from calm or looking to improve the situation. “It’s almost like a freeze response,” Chronopoulos says.
The goal is to find the middle ground: not fighting, not flighting, and where you can be more in tune with the other person.
This is an excerpt from an article that appears on the Harvard Health Publishing website.
Steve Calechman is a contributing editor for Men’s Health, a writer for MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program, and his work has appeared in The Boston Globe Magazine, Greentech Media, Fatherly, and BabyCenter.