How the 90-second rule will change the way you handle stress

The 90-second rule isn’t just useful. It will change your life – I know it changed mine.


Think about the last time you were angry? If you’re like most, it probably went something like this.

That’s not right. How can they do that?

So you begin thinking about it. It makes you angry. You feel slighted, irritated and mad. Your heart rate races, and you begin feeling an impulse to yell or argue as you find yourself all wound up.

Here is what happened.

  1. You had a thought.
  2. Your thought stimulated emotions.
  3. Your body experiences a physiological response because of these emotions.

You think, feel and experience. How long does all of this take?

90 seconds.


What the 90-second rule means

Whenever you react to anything in your environment, a chemical process occurs within your brain that lasts 90 seconds. That’s it. 90 seconds.

When you are anxious, furious, and scared, every emotion only lasts 90 seconds. After 90 seconds, any emotional response you feel is because you are choosing it.

When you’re stressed for hours, angry for days, or sad for weeks – it’s a choice. And that’s fantastic because we can do something about a choice. When we take responsibility, we also grasp the ability to change it.

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The power of the 90-second rule.

We can’t control our emotional brain. Stressful stimuli hit our amygdala, a little area responsible for detecting threats. Before we know it, our body is pumping out adrenaline and releasing all kinds of neurotransmitters in response to what we’ve just experienced.

And it lasts 90 seconds.

Here is where the cerebral cortex gets involved, the part of our brain responsible for logical thought and reasoning. After 90 seconds, we have two choices. Red pill; blue pill. Left or right.

We can swallow the blue pill and do what feels natural. Continue ruminating in our head, thinking angry thoughts. Triggering another 90 seconds and jumping back on the hamster wheel.

Or, maybe. Just maybe, we can try the red pill, the unpleasant truth. To do what feels unnatural and sit with the emotions. 

And when 90 seconds pass, move on – refusing to spark the emotional tinder with another thought. Because eventually, something will catch fire, and before you know it, you’ve turned 90 seconds into days.

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The 90-second rule in practice

Next time you’re overwhelmed, angry, or upset, stop what you’re doing. Focus on your breathing. If you’re angry, try counting. All it takes is 90 seconds. Step back for 90 seconds.

Thoughts are the oxygen that keeps this emotional loop burning. Without your thoughts, the fire you’re feeling will burn itself out – in 90 seconds. And if it takes longer, so be it. Let your feelings dance uninterrupted while you go on with your life. This, too, shall pass.

Published in Self Improvement, Learning, Psychology, Science
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