The devastating Covid-19 health crisis has lasted almost two years now, and many of us have been dealing with increased levels of stress and pent-up frustration during this time. As a result, we may find ourselves struggling to maintain tolerance and patience when in the middle of heated discussions or arguments.
You aren’t alone if you can relate to having a shorter fuse these days, however, having a short fuse can greatly affect your relationships, well-being, and stress levels. Now, as we welcome the new year, is the perfect time to start working on keeping cool so that you don’t end up deflated after every disagreement or regret saying things at the moment that you might not have truly meant. Here are three practical habits that will help tame your short fuse from Michael Tennant, empathy expert and founder and CEO of Curiosity Lab and Actually Curious.
Establish boundaries for mutual respect
According to Tennant, to fix a short fuse, you must first be able to recognize it and its adverse effects. “Whether you are encountering a person with a short fuse or you are the person that is acting out, curbing this behavior starts with a choice and clear communication that this behavior is damaging,” he explains.
Once this recognition has been made by all parties involved in the interaction, then you can collectively determine the level of respect each feels they deserve and would like to receive. It is crucial that respect is mutual among all people involved. Establishing expectations regarding respect will help you and everyone else be more mindful in moments of tension or intense emotion.
If you know you have a short fuse, then Tennant suggests setting personal boundaries about how you treat others, and how you allow yourself to be treated. It could be helpful to write out your boundaries in a journal and create achievable action steps to begin focusing on subduing immediate, knee-jerk reactions. Keep track of your progress and note down any accomplishments so that you can encourage yourself if you ever experience setbacks.
Develop your sense of compassion
“The antidote to anger is a deep understanding and the restoration of safety, though this can feel near impossible when caught in an anger spiral or when finding yourself on the receiving end,” Tennant says. This is why it’s important to show yourself compassion by trying to understand the root of your anger. Tennant recommends asking yourself: “what is the anger trying to protect?”
If it helps you to keep your thoughts organized, write your reflections down in a journal. Most of the time, the root of your anger doesn’t actually stem from the person or people who are on the receiving end of your short fuse, so removing the blame off of these individuals can help you become more empathetic and compassionate towards them as well.
Fill others in and explain that you’re striving to be better
If you have a personal goal to become more tolerant, patient, and slower to anger, it can be helpful to share this goal with the people you interact with most (friends, family, colleagues) and who tend to be on the receiving end of your short fuse.
Explain that you’ve acknowledged this negative habit and you’re now taking action to improve your communication and how your process your emotions so that you can resolve conflict without lashing out. This is also your opportunity to ask for empathy and patience from others, which will help both parties get on the same page and encourage positive communication.
While emotions like anger, fear, and frustration tend to have a negative reputation, “all emotions are good, once we attune ourselves to deeply listening to them,” explains Tennant. We simply must acknowledge our emotions as they come instead of judging ourselves for experiencing them. “Almost immediately, whether in ourselves or in others, we will begin to see the deeper emotions that [the] short-fuse is protecting.”