Post Argument Anxiety. Here Are 5 Ways to Cope With It Faster

JAN 23, 2023 AT 01:32 PM

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You know that horrible feeling in your gut when you have just argued with your spouse, partner, sibling, or best friend? It feels like your stomach is tied in a knot. You may feel a bit nauseous, and shaky, your heart may race and your muscles feel tense.

These are all acute physical symptoms of anxiety or stress. The body uses the stress reaction to mobilize for the fight or flight reaction. It does not know the difference between an argument and a life-threatening situation.

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In addition to the physiological symptoms of stress, you may still feel angry, tearful, and filled with dread. Questions such as these run through your mind: “Is this it? Are we going to break up? Will we ever have that loving feeling for each other again? What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

The emotional aspects of an argument can be as debilitating as the physiological ones. Human emotions are complex and multifaceted. Rebecca Stanborough from MFA, says in her article on Healthline that tears are common with anger. During and after an argument you may feel hurt, embarrassed, betrayed, or treated unjustly.

Frequently arguments begin over small issues. Under normal circumstances, they may not have caused a fight, but when you are tired, sick, stressed or in a hurry, a sentence that may have been a question sounds like an accusation.

When one person becomes defensive and says something that shows annoyance, it provokes the other to defend their point of view. Sometimes this may escalate into a full-blown row when both parties raise their voices and say hurtful things and what started as a simple exchange of words may end up with physical fighting at the extreme.

Psych Central says that the emotions involved in a particular argument may not even have a bearing on the topic. They may be unresolved feelings from a previous argument or situation.

The Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system regulates your breathing, heart rate, vision, and other functions. In times of acute stress, it can trigger various stress hormones which result in physiological changes in your body, as mentioned above. The main stress hormone adrenalin or epinephrine occurs naturally in the body.

This substance is released into the bloodstream with other stress hormones such as cortisol. Its function is to prepare your body to fight or run. The autonomic system has two parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic system is what is triggered during the fight or flight response.

The parasympathetic system promotes calming of the sympathetic system once the possible danger has passed. In a life-or-death situation, these responses are critical, but in the case of an argument one may consider them over-reactive.

The Brain

The brain is where it all starts. The eyes and ears send information to the amygdala, which is where emotional processing takes place. This part of the brain interprets the images and sounds and if it perceives any danger it immediately sends a signal of distress to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the body's center of the command and it communicates with the rest of the body via the nervous system.

When To Walk Away

Eventually, one or another, or maybe both of you stop arguing and either walk away to create some distance or sit silently brewing over the injustices of what was said. Modern Therapy Online, has these guidelines for when it is ok to walk away from an argument:

  • If you have created an agreement that specifies that walking away is only temporary and you will revisit the topic when you feel more objective.
  • You have a safe word. This may be anything you both know is a signal that you feel the argument is going nowhere and you need a break.
  • When you or your partner/friend/family member starts bringing up past hurts or disagreements.
  • Prioritize bringing your own emotions under control. Do whatever it takes to return to the conversation productively.

Seek Help

Some of these suggestions are done naturally by most people given some time and space. If you have not created an agreement or safe word, you can always tell the other person that you will not argue with them over the issue any longer, at that time, and walk away. It is important to remember that your relationship with the person you are arguing with is more important than being right.

If you feel that what they have done or said is bigger or more hurtful than you can forgive, or you continue to have the same argument, it may be best to seek a mediator or professional help. Therapists, councilors, specialists in conflict resolution, pastors, and other professionals are trained to assist in such matters.   

5 Ways to Regulate Yourself When You Are Stressed After an Argument.

1) Breathe

Breathing deeply helps the body to realize that the possible threat is over. The American Institute of Stress suggests that to promote a feeling of calmness try lateral (abdominal) breathing for 20 -30 minutes. It reduces anxiety and stress and increases oxygen to your brain which, in turn, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.

2) Exercise

Even though you may want to sit and brood, exercise is a good way to relieve some of the stress your body is feeling. Even a short walk will make you feel better.

If punching it out is more your style, hit the gym, put on some boxing gloves, and give a punching bag a beating!

3) Think Clearly

Once the acute symptoms of stress have subsided, think. Consider what brought the argument on. Try, if possible, to see your loved one's point of view, even if you do not agree with it. Consider what you may have said or done differently. Did you overreact? Shifting from reactive to proactive thinking helps to focus your mind.

4) Set a Goal

This may be the very last thing you want to do but narrowing your train of thought helps to make you feel more in control at that particular moment, even if that goal is to go and have a shower or make a cup of coffee.

5) Talk to Someone you Trust

If possible, phone or visit a friend that was not involved and will not take sides. Even them listening while you vent assists in you being able to think more clearly.

Making Up

A discussion on post-argument anxiety would be amiss without a few words on making up. What not to do – pretend the argument didn't happen, punish the other with the silent treatment or freeze the other person out.

This can be especially harmful to children in the home. Instead, cool off and apologize for your part in the argument. This does not mean you are admitting the other person was right. If the issue is an ongoing problem, deal with it. Unfortunately, we are inclined to 'hurt those we love the most'.

Whether it's because they know us the best or we feel we can let our guard down with them, taking your frustrations out on them instead of the object or person incurring your wrath, is not the way to go.

Conclusion

Anxiety after an argument produces several physiological and emotional signs and symptoms that your body and mind are under stress. From rapid heartbeat, nausea, and muscular tension. Your body is in fight or flight mode.

You may feel weepy and have a sense of doom. All these can be explained when looking at how the autonomic nervous system and brain function during times of stress. Five ways to overcome these feelings of anxiety include deep breathing and exercise which promote a sense of calm.

Once you can think clearly again, try setting a goal to give you a feeling of being more in control. If you need to talk about it, phone or visit a trusted friend.