11 Simple Practices for Keeping Your Cool During Conflict

Yes, they actually work.

Michele DeMarco, PhD
11 min readMay 21, 2021


Fan blowing with a blurred image of a person.
Photo: Ava Sol / Unsplash

Part Four: This is the final installment of the “How to Tend and Befriend Conflict” series. If you think you know how to deal with conflict, think again.

Just before COVID struck, I was sitting in my car on an onramp waiting to mount the Bay Bridge, the exceedingly long overpass that connects the city of San Francisco to the East Bay. It was raining, and the traffic was at a standstill. Ahead, I could see a figure with a broad hat coming head-on down the ramp. He was staggering, weaving his way staccato-like through the cars, and screaming into the air. He was also waving a bag wildly that appeared to be holding rocks. The next thing I knew, the figure was stopped in front of my car. His eyes, now in view, had the appearance of a Great White shark: wide, black, and ready to attack.

Suddenly, the bag was slamming down on the hood of my car — over and over, as the figure continued to scream into the air and as rocks flew out onto the road. Sandwiched, with nowhere to go, all I could think to do was honk and scream. But when he made his way to the driver’s side, still wielding the bag like a deranged lumberjack, and found the handle that opened the door and began wielding the bag on my head and body, all rational thought gave way to involuntary action. I twisted in my seat, raised my leg that was snug inside a knee-high leather boot, and plunged the substantive heel into the figure’s abdomen with a force wholly unfamiliar. He staggered backwards, then fell to the ground, the remaining rocks littering the already trash-infested onramp. I scrambled to shut and lock the door, my lungs trying to find air and my heart as desperate to escape my chest as the rest of me was to flee that scene. Then, as if on cue, the traffic slowly started moving.

The ride home I spent cursing all manner of things. My mother, who happened to call a few moments later, was subjected to a series of long and disjointed rants. At one point, she told me I was speaking like a run-away train and to pull over and try to calm down.

“I am calm,” I snapped. “I’m just fine!” I yelled with a fever’s pitch.

Not really. My hands were still shaking, as they gripped the wheel with white knuckles at 10 and…



Michele DeMarco, PhD

Award-winning writer, therapist, clinical ethicist, and researcher specializing in moral injury. I talk about the stuff many won’t. micheledemarco.com