Here’s a thought: if your brain were a beautiful, super-powerful car would you hand it over to be driven by someone prone to random aggressivity, irrational panic and seizures? And yet we do exactly that and the results can go something like this:
Neuroscientists talk about our brain being made up of four parts:
- The Reptilian Brain responsible for dealing with life-threatening situations through one of three responses: flight, fight or freeze
- The Paleolimbic Brain where self-confidence and trust reside
- The Neolimbic Brain is who we are. It is, home to our deepest motivations and raw emotions, our likes, dislikes, memories, learning.
- The Prefrontal Brain which is a marvel of evolution, the supercomputer. This is where adaptation, creativity, innovation, intuition, spirituality, serenity, and calm reside.
Our reptilian brain served cavemen pretty well. Its’ three responses of fight, flight or freeze ensured our survival. It hijacks our brain when we need to get ourselves out of danger. 30,000 years our reptilian brain still kicks in when it is triggered. But today our equivalent to the hairy mammoth is stress.
Each part of our brain has a key role to play. We still need that reptilian brain to be activated when you step into a cycle lane by mistake and narrowly avoid being hit. What we want to avoid is for it to be kicked into high gear because of stress. That can make us aggressive, anxious for no reason (we are the only species to worry about things that will most likely never happen), or helpless.
You can try these things to calm the lizard and get access to our adaptive creative resources:
- Breathe. I know, I know, I’ve said it before…but it is your most powerful, portable, and accessible weapon you have against stress. When you feel stress coming on pause, slow time, draw in 3 deep breaths. It is tempting to dismiss this because it is so simple, but trust me it works.
- Relax the muscles of your jaw. When you relax the muscles of your jaw it sends an automatic response to the vagus nerve, your breathing becomes deeper, and all of those stress responses (heart rate going up, sweating, blood pressure) become lessened so you feel calm.
- Your brain is ‘plastic’ and can be retrained. Instead of experiencing ups and downs like a roller coaster ride you can train it so smooth out the down slides. Make it a priority to integrate something relaxing into your life. Some ideas are meditation, yoga, a walk outside, or a hobby you love. This will make the lizard think twice before it hijacks you with stress.
For those of you interested in learning more about the brain there is a fascinating free 30 minute course on Udemy by Gregory Caremans “Meet your brain: an introduction to neuroscience.”