The brain can be crudely divided into three main areas.
First, the thinking part, which is focused on logic and reason. Beneath that is the emotional part, which is concerned with primitive urges and keeping us alive. Finally at the base of your skull is the brain stem, which controls basic functions. The challenge we face with controlling our behaviour is that the sensory input (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste) from the outside world goes through our emotional brain and then up into the rational thinking part.
Why? Survival! If the emotional part of the brain senses a threat, it can hijack the rational part and trigger a reaction before we get to think it through. Technically this is called an amygdala hijack. The amygdala is a section of our emotional brain that is concerned with our survival. These rapid reactions are useful if we are walking through some long grass and a snake appears, but the amygdala is not very smart and it can massively overreact to innocent situations. Say someone sends us an email that we take offence to, resulting in us firing a scathing response that five minutes later we wish we could get back.
Here’s how to keep your amyg in check:
- Pause. The reason we react so extremely is that our emotional mind is overriding our rational one. By pausing we give our rational mind time to catch up and be involved.
- Take a deep breath. By breathing deeply we cool the amygdala down and reduce its chance of hijacking.
- Manage your stress levels. When we are stressed our amygdala is on high alert and is just looking for something to lose it at.
- Manage your physical wellbeing. We are far more likely to have an an amygdala hijack when we have poor sleep, no exercise and a poor diet.