Want Conflict Resolution? Regulate Your Emotions

by | Jun 9, 2024

When you are a little child, you have very little control over your environment. To compensate, many children learn to self-soothe. They suck their thumbs or cuddle their blankies, and thus calm their anxieties. But when they grow up, they give up childish things, and many people do not develop self-soothing strategies when they’re adults. But those skills are very useful when you’re experiencing conflict.


The trouble with conflict is, your emotional intensity floods your system, and you find it difficult to operate rationally. If you’re having a heated discussion with your partner, it’s hard to focus on what he’s saying. It’s hard to communicate at all because you’re so overwhelmed by emotion—you need to regulate that emotion, much as you did when you were small and self-soothed.

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Escalating Fights


We’ve all been in fights that escalate out of control. That’s when you begin relatively calmly, and emotions overtake you, so you shoot from the hip when you accuse and criticize your partner or defend yourself. You haven’t regulated your emotions, and that’s when the trouble starts.


Heart rate monitors tell the tale. If, during a fight, your heart rate increases above your normal resting heart rate, your system is overwhelmed, and you may find you’re not operating at your usual calm level. If possible, you can even pause before your conversation escalates, and grab a heart monitor to help you understand your how your body reacts to conflict. You may experience tightened jaw muscles, rapid heartbeat, and tension throughout your body. Also, that pause to assess your physical situation may actually give you a moment to cool down.


Calming Techniques


Once you’re in high distress, how do you come down? Try some self-soothing techniques by pampering your senses. For your sight, soft lighting may help, or going outside to enjoy a beautiful view. Or even watching puppy videos. For your smell, take in the perfume of flowers, or perhaps perfume in a bottle. Maybe bake some bread and let the aroma fill the house. For taste, treat yourself to whatever delights your tastebuds. For touch, pet your dog, stroke your cat, pump a stress ball, or find your adult blankie and snuggle up.


Another tool to help manage your distress is to take a cold shower. Or douse your face with ice water. The sudden cold helps reset your body by decreasing your heart rate. Intense flavors on your taste buds like strong peppermint or spicy foods can serve a similar purpose. Intense exercise, like holding a plank position, or engaging in vigorous cardio, can also reset your body. Or practice progressive muscle relaxation by tightening one group of muscles at a time, and then releasing. Or try intentional breathing by focusing on breathing in and out with slow, deep breaths. Take a 20-minute break. That’s how long it takes for your body to recalibrate.


Catching Yourself


The most difficult part of following any of the above suggestions is catching yourself before your emotions escalate out of control. But with practice, you can learn to think before you respond, and stop for a moment to get your bearings. Soothe yourself and save your relationship.



Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional. If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch. You can reach her here: https://www.nancyscounselingcorner.com/contact



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