We have all seen that person at the stores, or in our workplaces who appears to be losing control. Yelling, arguing, stomping, demanding and being defiant. It’s hard to ignore and ya wonder what’s going on in their minds to cause them to act that way.
But what’s worse is being that person and looking back with regret on those moments of less than stellar behaviour
Dan Siegel, author and professor of clinical psychiatry coined the term “flipping your lid.” It is a great description of what is happening within the brain that explains why people lose rational control and offers some simple ways we can help.
“Flipping your lid” is a simplified explanation that I often refer to when describing what happens in the brain when people experience stress.
Once you learn this concept you will begin to see if everywhere. The frustrated customer, angry neighbour, the exhausted parent. Your response to this human experience will be forever changed, and you build self awareness resists that urge to flip your own lid.
If you hold up your fist with your thumb tucked under your fingers it is a visualization of the brain. Your fingers are the pre-frontal cortex or logic centre of the brain.
The back of your hand or wrist is your brain stem or the area that is in charge of all the automatic system functioning, like breathing, temperature and heart rate.
Your thumb is called the amygdala.
This is part of the brain that senses danger and alerts the rest of the brain and triggers the fight, flight and freeze responses.
Normally the logic centre is in charge. It’s constantly processing and analyzing.
So the prefrontal cortex is normally where you analyze actions and consequences. But, if your amygdala senses danger than it takes over and you flip your lid.
You are no longer operating primarily out of your logic centre but with your amygdala and the fight, flight and freeze mode is fully engaged.
Those who have flipped their lid are often are responding with a lot of emotions and having a physical response.
Face red, fidgety, or even feel the need to pace. This is 100% how our bodies are designed to work. If we are experiencing a real threat, like someone was chasing us we would need to be alert, hyper-aware, ready for action.
Our bodies don’t distinguish between a real or imagined threat. It doesn’t matter if we feel like someone is threatening or if someone is actually threatening us our physiological response is the same.
A common stress response is experiencing anger. It would be the Fight mode. We become defensive, sensitive, loud, agitated… ya know we’ve all been there. You know what happens when you get angry.
But it’s interesting to see how scripture reflects God’s wisdom on how to deal with anger and flipping our lids. After all, God is the designer of our bodies.
There are several scriptures in Proverbs 15 and again in James where it talks about being slow to anger.
Research has shown that to slow the amygdala response we need to tell our bodies we are not in danger. A key way is by slowing your breathing and lowering your heart rate. By doing that your brain realizes that you are not in immediate danger and you’re able to re engage your prefrontal cortex. And this is what was written in scripture thousands of years ago.
Over the last few weeks I’m sure that you have spoken to someone who was upset or agitated. They presented with signs of flipping their lid, talking fast, palms sweaty, voice raised and would be fidgeting.
When someone has flipped their lid it’s not a good time to have a logical discussion on why they are being inappropriate.
Their logic part of their brain has been hijacked and they are on high alert.
If you, or someone around you has flipped their lid, do what you can to lower the heart rate.
Deep breaths, cool air or water on the face, walking off the tension or really anything that would lower temperature and heart rate and allow for the logical centre to re engage.
With a little time, people regain control and recognize that they their response was not appropriate. We’ve all been there. Embarrassed, apologetic because of something we may have said in the heat of the moment and feel shame.
This is where we offer grace, compassion and use those active listening skills to encourage and build people up.
So next time you start to feel your heart race, palms get sweaty or become fidgety, you can slow that response by controlling your temperature, breathing and heart-rate.
If you’re a ministry caregiver and you are interested in knowing more about how to care for others subscribe to the YouTube channel or join the community of mental health advocates over on facebook