Angry Man

Why are we overcome with emotions?

Cannot control anger, sadness, or guilt? Wondering why you cannot stop the flow of rage? Read on to know why we are overcome with emotions?

The Emotional Brain

We are all aware of our ‘thinking brain’, that is our rational mind. It helps us to comprehend information and reflect on our thoughts.

The neocortex is the seat of those thoughts.

However, we are less aware of our other brain which is the ’emotional brain’. The emotional brain sits on top of the brain stem, whose epicenter is the amygdala. We first developed the emotional or limbic brain, which later evolved into the rational brain.

Hence many of our thoughts are dependent on what we are feeling.

Amygdala – The Hijacker

In normal daily routines, our neocortex does its job perfectly with rationally evaluating situations and providing well-calculated answers.

However amidst our routine, when a situation arises where fear, anxiety, or rage rise – adrenaline rushes to the brain and activates the amygdala as the savior. However, it does the exact opposite.

Emotional Hijacking

The amygdala is the seat of emotional memory. It is from where our flight and fight response comes. Meaning, how our ancestors faced wild animals and had to decide to engage or run – we get to make that decision in playgrounds, offices, and homes.

The amygdala drives us to immediate action assuming we are in a life and death situation, through an emergency passageway that bypasses the neocortex. For our ancestors, this passageway was the difference between life and death.

But for us, it is the difference between reacting and responding. And the reason why we are overcome with emotions.

The amygdala hijacking leads to an emotionally charged non- rational explosion of words. Often filled with anger, sadness, guilt, shame, and desire leading to regrettable actions.

To read more about how the amygdala hijacking and how it affects our moods, read the article – The 5 Negative Thinking Patterns.

Prefrontal Cortex – The Saviour

So who is the actual savior? The answer is the prefrontal cortex.

How the prefrontal cortex helps

Just like the amygdala is the ’emergency trigger’ the prefrontal cortex is the ‘ emergency off ‘ switch.

When the prefrontal cortex is activated it can:

  1. Plan, organize and comprehend emotional situations
  2. Assess threat priority
  3. Access emotional memory
  4. Respond with thought and emotion

Therefore, for us to be able to stop being overcome with emotions, we need to learn how to activate the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex makes the amygdala quiet down.

Research shows that those people who can manage emotions have well-developed connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. They also have a well-developed nucleus accumbens which is associated with a sense of reward and motivation. Meaning, that these people are also very positive and well-motivated.

The good news is that these connections can be strengthed just like any other muscle. The strategies to do so are:

  • Become an observer of your thoughts
  • Be aware of your present surroundings
  • Count to 10 or take a deep breath before reacting
  • Do not jump to conclusions
  • Use well-defined goals to keep you focused and motivated
  • Practice self-control and self-restraint
  • Be consistent with your efforts

To find ideas on – How to better deal with negative emotions with the prefrontal cortex in action, please click here

So next time you feel overcome with emotions you decide which do you want to activate – the amygdala or the prefrontal cortex?

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