High-stress situations can often cause people’s emotions to get the better of them. And if they’re not careful, the consequences can be dire.
But try telling that to the high-profile individuals who were seen raging left right and center this week. US president Donald Trump’s personal attorney Mark Kasowitz, for instance, didn’t think twice when a stranger sent him an email asking him to “Resign now.” He just blasted off a series of expletive-driven threats: “I’m on you now. You are fucking with me now. Let’s see who you are.”
Then there was the litany of abusive emails which writer and producer Frank Darabont wrote to his colleagues at AMC during the shooting of the zombie-hit TV series “Walking Dead.” One went so far as to threaten a killing spree with bodies being thrown out the door.
It’s bad enough if you’re a regular joe who lashes out against a friend or family member. That’s not cool. But there’s a good chance they’ll forgive and forget. Getting all heated in the workplace is a little more problematic, though. People there expect you to act professional at all times. Indeed, in that instance, sending out a nastygram might just cost you your job. So what should you do?
Take a piece a paper. (Or if you want to keep it authentic, open a fresh email.)
Let it all out. Do it.
But once you’re finished, scrumple that bit of paper up into a ball. Click “Delete.” Save it as a draft if you must. Just never click send.
Do this and you’ll be following in the footsteps of Mark Twain, who used to express his fury in letters to close friends to avoid public outbursts, and former US president Abraham Lincoln. He wrote a mountain of fiery letters that never got sent. But Lincoln did send the calmer responses he crafted the next day, though. That saved a relationship or two. US general George Meade, for example, never had to find out that Lincoln blamed him for the escape of Confederate general Robert Lee, which Lincoln reckoned would have ended the American Civil War early.
The science also suggests that you’ll feel better. A brain-imaging study carried out by the University of California in 2007 found that writing down your thoughts on paper seemed to have a calming effect, even if people didn’t realize it. Emotional situations can heighten activity in a region of our brain known as the amygdala. While it served as an important survival tactic for our primitive ancestors, behaving like a kind of cranial alarm, persistent use of the amygdala can also make people lose focus and feel stressed.
When people start labelling that feeling, however, that part of the brain becomes less active. Meanwhile, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the area associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences, becomes more so. All this processing reduces the intensity of strong emotions—and lessens the likelihood of you looking like a bully who can’t keep a cool head.