Brains are tricksy things, and you’ve got to do some due diligence to make sure that the things that are going on in your head are actually… well, real.
I don’t just mean “better communication” things – though those are vital. I mean things like external factors that can completely alter and shift the ways we interact without us being aware of them.
Here’s three ways it happens – and the odds are good that at least one of them effects you.
1. While “hangry” might be a marketing slogan, it’s also a real thing. Aside from it meaning that you’re low on energy (including willpower), it also kicks in adrenaline and physiological effects that often lead to anger.
2. The weather can have a significant effect on your mood – and almost entirely negatively. It’s not just through things like SADD or general light levels, but can even do a number on you if there’s a rapid change in barometric pressure (I’m noticing the latter). This effect seems to be greater with people who are already in an unstable emotional state.
3. The autonomic nervous system – the part of your body that controls “fight or flight” – tends to react differently in men and women (PDF link). In particular, the sympathetic nervous system (e.g. “starting fight or flight”) kicks in faster for men, and the parasympathetic (“calming down from fight or flight”) is slower to respond for women.
How does this work in real life? Let’s say that Anastasia and Fabio are a couple and have an issue that requires a hard discussion.
1. Anastasia and Fabio have the discussion before eating, and are both “hangry”. As a result, when Fabio brings the issue up, Anastasia responds defensively. Fabio gets defensive in turn, and so rather than a productive discussion, it turns into an argument.
2. They try again, but this time there’s a storm front moving in and the barometric pressure is dropping precipitously. Fabio is already on edge from the first discussion, so the weather change is really doing a whammy on him, but he’s not consciously aware of it. So when Anastasia brings it up, Fabio is out of sorts, throwing Anastasia off. Another argument ensues.
3. After about twenty minutes of arguing and discussion, Fabio and Anastasia sound like they’ve reached an agreement. Fabio breathes a sigh of relief, just in time for Anastasia to say “…and ANOTHER thing!”
All three operate on the same principle. When there’s something off with our mental state, our brains – the wonderful, tricksy pattern-matching machines they are – try to find something to explain why we feel off. In all three cases, neither Fabio or Anastasia is aware of the external influences that’s pooching their communication.
The first two are pretty obvious, but the third might need a bit more explaining. While Fabio’s parasympathetic nervous system has kicked into gear and calmed him down, Anastasia’s isn’t done yet. She’s still in “fight or flight” mode. The actual thing that started “fight or flight” is done and over with, so her brain – without conscious intent – finds something else to explain why she’s still feeling that way.
It’s the same kind of effect that happens with scary movies on date night – the excitement from fear is physiologically similar to the excitement from attraction. Our brains try to find a reason to explain why our bodies are all worked up, and…
The cool thing is that if you’re aware of these effects, you can start to work to minimize how you’re thinking. Postpone arguments until you’re not hungry. If you’re out of sorts, check the weather. Be aware of how your body handles its autonomic nervous system so you don’t accidentally start a new argument just after you’ve finished the hard discussion you started out to have.
And above all, be kind and understanding of yourself and those you love.