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Mindful : April 2018
SCIENCE How Chemistry Plays a Role in Our Arguments In the heat of an argument, when we feel defensive or under attack, our reaction is often to speak louder, inter- rupt, and verbally attack the other person. You may feel a rush of energy, a surge of epinephrine and norepineph- rine—the hormones that are released when riding a roller coaster. The stress hormone, cortisol, is also released when we feel stressed, afraid, or attacked. Other physi- cal symptoms of a stressful argument may include a faster heartbeat, short- ness of breath, and a feeling of tightness in your chest. According to Judith Glaser in The Harvard Business Review we get addicted to the rush of battle, especially if we win the argument. When we feel victorious, the “feel-good” chemicals adrenaline (also called epinephrine) and dopa- mine are released in the brain, making us feel dominant and even invincible. It’s for tunate that another chemical, oxytocin, is acti- vated by positive, empathetic human interactions. Accord- ing to Glaser, the release of oxytocin “opens up the net- works in our executive brain, or prefrontal cor tex, fur ther increasing our ability to trust and open ourselves to shar- ing.” She believes that you can train yourself to not get swept up in a battle mentality when we argue. As she writes, “even the best fighters—the proverbial smartest guys in the room—can break their addiction to being right by getting hooked on oxytocin- inducing behavior instead.” Mindfulness and loving- kindness meditation can play important roles in activating oxytocin, teaching us that it feels good to be friendly, to love, and to be loved. If empathy and openness play a role in an argument, we can change our allegiance from the chemistry of stress to the chemistry of empathy. According to Christopher Bergland in Psychology To d ay, any form of meditation will reduce anxiety and lower cor tisol levels. So we can help ourselves through the regular practice of meditation and by bringing mindfulness into stressful conversations. Your Brain on Arguments