Dr. Caroline Leaf – Think of the last time you had an argument and how it made you feel, both physically and mentally. Pretty bad, right? Well, it is not all just in your head! Unresolved arguments can be harmful to your health, and can potentially decrease your longevity! In this podcast (episode #274), I talk about the importance of resolving arguments, and the incredibly beneficial impact this can have on your wellbeing and quality of life.
A recent study from Oregon State University found that when people have resolved an argument, “the emotional response associated with the disagreement is significantly reduced”, while, “in some situations, it can be entirely erased”. Why is this important? Essentially, when you work to resolve an argument, you not only improve your relationships, but also your emotional health, which, in turn, can improve your overall wellbeing.
There is much research, including mine (for more on this see my latest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess), showing how unmanaged minds can result in toxic stress levels that affect our mental and physical health. This makes sense with major stressors like poverty or violence, but research has shown that daily chronic stressors like minor inconveniences and unresolved arguments can also have a lasting impact on our health and mortality.
When it comes to arguments, avoidance and lack of closure can increase anxiety levels, which can impact our overall health (due to the mind-body-brain connection I discuss in detail in Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess). The Oregon studymentioned above notes that this includes “avoiding an argument to ‘keep the peace’” and/or “having an argument but not resolving it”. In this study, this avoidance resulted in increased reactivity, which lead to an increase in the subjects’ negative emotions, as well as an amplified emotional “residue”, that is a prolonged negative emotional toll the day after the negative experience occurred, all of which impacted the subjects’ health and mental wellbeing. However, in that same study, if an argument was resolved, “people reported half the reactivity on the day and no residue the day after”, which resulted in better health outcomes.
What does all this mean? While people cannot always control what stressors come into their lives, and while the lack of control is itself a stressor in many cases, they can work on their own emotional response to those stressors. As I always say, we cannot always control our circumstances, but we can control our reactions to our circumstances. This is mind-management in action, and leads to a host of positive health outcomes, including better ageing and better stress resilience.
In fact, through mind management and self-regulation, you can learn to manage your stressors in a way that they do not have a gnawing impact on you over the course of the day, which will help minimize the potential long-term impact of negative emotions on your health. I recommend doing a Neurocycle, which is a way to harness your thinking power through mind-management that I have developed and researched over the past three decades (I discuss this in detail in my book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess), to identify where you are at in your relationships and help resolve an argument.
This process has 5 steps:
First, take a break, go into another room or space and calm the brain down by breathing deeply. I recommend breathing in for 5 counts and out for 11 counts, and repeating this technique 3 times (for around 45 seconds).
Next, GATHER awareness of your emotional and physical warning signals, such as tension in your shoulders, indigestion or feelings of anxiety. How has this argument made you feel emotionally and physically?
Then, REFLECT on why you are having these feelings. Ask, answer and discuss with yourself what was said or done that resulted in the argument, and how it has made you feel. What do you think these feelings are telling you about the argument and about your response to the argument? What happened? What was said? Why? What assumptions may you be making? Why do you think the other person reacted the way they did?
After this step, WRITE down what you reflected on. This will help you organize your thinking.
Then, RECHECK. Look for triggers, thought patterns and “antidotes” (that is how you would like to respond in the future and how you would like the situation to end).
Lastly, practice your ACTIVE REACH. Practice using the “antidote” you came up with in the recheck step to deal with your trigger. For example, this could be as simple as practicing not raising your voice or being more aware of your body language.