07 Sep Your Brain On Emotions
When you take a drug, chemicals are released in your brain, causing the physical sensations of a “high” to ensue. It’s not much different with strong emotions, but instead of being triggered by a substance, they are triggered by our thoughts. Positive emotions move us toward higher functions in the brain and a more open, receptive, healthy mind + body, while negative emotions do the opposite: they hijack our brain and send us into fight-or-flight mode, making it impossible to access logic and make sound decisions.
UNDERSTANDING THE BRAIN: THE LIMBIC SYSTEM & PREFRONTAL CORTEX
There are two main parts of the brain that deal with emotions and logic. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for higher executive functions such as logic, long-term memory, decision-making, and future plans. The limbic system is responsible for processing emotions, both positive and negative, and behavioral responses. Every thought we have first travels through the limbic system. We have approximately 70,000 thoughts per day, and only 7,000 are ones we notice! Since thoughts can cause emotion, see how many opportunities there are for our brains to get hijacked by strong emotions?
FACTS ABOUT EMOTIONS
- Positive emotions improve our prefrontal cortex, while negative emotions impair it.
- Negative emotions suspend our ability to use logic (fight-or-flight may arise).
- Negative emotions trigger the limbic system and prepare us to take action (run, fight or hide) – the brain needs to stop questioning things and prepare for action.
- Practices are required to choose positive emotions because our brains will naturally move toward negativity bias.
- Neuroplasticity explains that the brain is like soft plastic and has flexibility to change shape, meaning we can change our brain by way of new experiences, forming new healthy habits, and experiencing positive emotions.
NEGATIVITY BIAS & THE CORE EMOTIONS
Each one of us humans has what’s called a negativity bias, which means our brains are always scanning for threat since they are trying to keep us alive. That’s why we tend to see the problems in our lives, the challenges, and everything that’s going wrong more than what is going right or well.
The three core emotions are fear, anger, and sadness. Inside Out is a great Pixar movie that personifies these big emotions. Check out the trailer here. When we are taken over by a negative emotion, our bodies can easily enter into fight-or-flight mode, meaning: 1) chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol are released in the brain (stress response is activated), 2) heart rate increases, and 3) blood rushes from the core to the extremities (arms and legs) to prepare the body to fight or flee. In this state, we do not have access to our prefrontal cortex (our thinking, logical brain). In fight-or-flight the limbic system has taken over completely. Our bodies are stressed, our immune system is weak, and it’s easier to get sick. When the perceived threat is gone (and the emotion fades out), it’s a process for the body to return to homeostasis – meaning there is a “come down” from these strong emotions. This is why you’ve likely heard that you shouldn’t make any big decisions when you’re feeling emotional.
YOUR BRAIN ON EMOTIONS
Emotions (positive and negative) release chemicals in our brain that cause us to feel a certain way. Negative emotions impair our ability to think logically and plan for the future, while positive emotions do the opposite and also contribute to vibrant health and wellness. Because of our negativity bias, we have to work harder at our positive emotion game. Think about things that make you feel good. Write down one thing you can do today that will help you feel relaxed, safe, connected, open, or peaceful (and then commit to doing it). Activities that invite you into the present moment such as yoga or exercise, deep breathing, meditation, sharing a meal or conversation with a loved one, being in community, or playing with your kids or animals are all wonderful ways to help your brain and body experience more joy, humility, gratitude, and compassion in your life. Experiencing positive emotions opens up our brains to receive more information, expands our capacity for logic and future planning (via the prefrontal cortex), and also improves our cardiovascular system and physical body in general.
POSITIVE EMOTION PRACTICE
Positive emotions are slippery – meaning we have to work harder to keep them, while negative emotions are sticky, we have to work harder to get rid of them. Think of your brain like your awareness muscle. We train it by the way we choose to focus our attention. What we focus on multiplies, and we draw more of into our lives.
- Sit comfortably or lie down.
- Close your eyes.
- Tune into a few deep breaths as you feel the weight of your body connecting to the ground.
- Bring your attention to a moment in the past where you felt deep joy, lightness, or playfulness. This could be a moment you were alone or with a loved one.
- Go back through every beautiful detail of this moment.
- Feel in your heart and let it fill your entire body.
- Stay with it and breathe for 2-3 minutes.
- Notice the way you feel afterward.
THOUGHT – FEELING – BEHAVIOR
In a nutshell, our thoughts create our feelings, which drive our behavior. Often times what holds us back are our feelings that get in the way of our ability to take action in a logical way. Feeling stuck in habits or patterns that are not serving us can happen as a result of holding onto beliefs or thoughts that no longer serve us. To create a new habit, we first need to understand how our thoughts are driving our behavior, then take consistent action to do something different. This can be extremely challenging to do on our own. A coach will help you become more aware of the thoughts and core beliefs that are driving your behavior and holding you back. Then you can identify what beliefs you want to keep, or form new ones, and take small steps to move in the direction of a more positive mindset, reclaim your power, and move forward in designing your life. We are all unique. Different techniques work for different people. If you would like to explore ways to level up your mindset, get feeling your best, and create the life you want, book your free consult here.