All of our emotions, both positive and negative are different mental reactions that are expressed by humans. Emotions are present in our daily lives and play a role in how we behave individually and socially.
Many of the functions of the brain have evolved over thousands of years and they are what keep us, people safe and thriving. Even though there are physical threat to our environment is much less now, we now have social and emotional threats linked to our status and what others will think of us. We are receiving stimulus constantly, what we see, hear and smell. The limbic system then causes us to react with fear any time we feel threatened. This can be a triggers interpreted as a threat to our sense of belonging, our status, fairness, uncertainty and our autonomy. It constantly scans the environment looking for evidence that there is a threat, although more often than not there is actually no threat.
A part of our brain called the limbic system is thought to control emotion and other brain functions related to our instincts and memories. This part of the brain is responsible for detecting and relaying information from our senses, such as smell and vision. This can be something that is happening it us in the moment or come from another stimulus which isn’t actually related to us. This kind of situation can cause us challenges as the mind doesn’t distinguish between oneself and others. It actually thinks we are all one. When we see a situation happen to someone else, we can respond as if the event was happening to us. A great example of this was the general response to the tragic booming in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert or the Grenfell Fire. It is normal to be moved by another person’s plights although for some this becomes a huge trauma even though they weren’t directly involved. In these situations, the brain responses in auto pilot and is responsible for putting the body into an emergency state.
Another part of the brain called the amygdalae assists in the development of memories, particularly those related to emotional events and emergencies. The amygdalae are also involved specifically with the development of the fear emotion and can be the cause of extreme expressions of fear, as in the case of panic.
In any perceived risky or unknown situation, the brain releases adrenaline into the body, the heart rate increases, and the mouth can get dry and there is a desire to either fight, flight or freeze. This system is triggered if we are insulted, demoted, fired or come in second which can create a threat status.
These responses are automatic and can quite simply happen at any time during a normal day to day experiences. We see someone yawning at your presentation; we are quite likely to interpret this as a threat to you, than just thinking that they had not had a very good night sleep. It can be triggered if someone doesn’t even say ‘Good morning’ to us and this may cause us to react angrily towards that person. The reality could be that they are simply having a really difficult time and just didn’t notice you.
It is in this response which prevents us using her rational mind and our behaviours can appear to be erratic, sometimes out of character and even crazy!
The trick is trying to manage this response by settling our minds so that we can keep these responses in perspective and react appropriately.
4 steps to help manage these responses:
1. Realise! Stop yourself and realise (become aware) that your mind is being hijacked into a fight or flight response. Recognise the emotions that are flooding you and name them.
2. Breathe! Taking 4 or 5 deep, cleansing breaths will oxygenate the brain.
3. Give thanks! This one will be hard to do, but just DO IT – say to yourself what you are grateful about related to the person, event or situation you are experiencing. Have faith that even though you may not yet feel grateful, the act of moving toward gratitude is helping shift the neuro-chemical landscape in your brain.
4. Re-think! Once your emotions have calmed and you can think rationally, re-evaluate the situation and pinpoint the triggers. Becoming aware of your triggers helps your brain to shift you to activate some rational thinking about this event and how your mind/body responded to it.