Has it ever happened to you when you got emotionally hijacked without any logical reason?
It was a usual warm Florida evening.
I was pacing up and down in my apartment, nervously looking at my phone.
My heart was pounding so strongly, I could almost hear it..
I couldn’t get hold my my boyfriend at that time.
I kept calling and texting me for the past 2 hours but without any response…
My brain was picturing the worst scenarios conjuring up the worst lethal outcomes..
I couldn’t relax, calm down or stop driving myself to even further agony. It was as if I was possessed.
I was a slave to my emotions that were holding a tight grip on me.
To cut a long story short, eventually my boyfriend called me and explained he had a tennis session and then went for a swim, while his phone was at home.
Thinking about it now makes me think how ridiculous my reaction was. Completely illogical and unsubstantiated.
But why? What is the reason for such illogical reactions?
Why does passion often overwhelm reason?
Why our brain jumps at conclusions without getting the facts straight?
To answer these questions, we need to look at the nature of emotions and why we need them in the first place?
Why do we need emotions?
(I am not a neuroscientist, but I’m just fascinated by how our brain works, so all the info is from the books I have read)
So, Emotions serve a vital part in our survival.
Emotions are essentially impulses to act; they prepare the body for a response to different stimuli.
For example, anger makes the blood flow to our hands, making it easier to grasp a weapon or strike at an enemy. Heart rate increases and a rush of hormones such as adrenaline generates a strong energy enough for a vigorous action.
Fear makes blood go to our limbs making it easier to run. Have you heard “fight or flight” response? It is usually activated with the emotion of fear.
Happiness changes the activity in the brain inhibiting negative emotions and it stimulates the increase in energy.
These are just a few examples to demonstrate the vital importance of emotions in our life.
We have emotional and rational minds within us that for the most part operate in tight harmony, intertwining their ways of knowing to guide us through the world.
The main question is “Why emotions and reason are often at war?”
With a little bit of context over the development of our brain, it is easier to understand why we are often emotionally hijacked. And why emotion often overrules logic.
Over millions of years of revolution our brain was developing from the bottom up. The most primitive part of the brain is the brain stem surrounding the spinal cord.
This root brain regulates basic life functions like breathing and metabolism, as well as controlling stereotype reactions and movements.
This brain doesn’t think or learn. It is set to regulate the body as it should and ensure its survival.
From the most primitive root emerged emotional centres. And these emotional areas, millions of years of evolution later, evolved the thinking brain or neocortex.
The fact that the thinking brain grew from the emotional brain reveals a lot about the relationship between thought and feeling.
Limbic or emotional brain is the reason why we react before we analyse the situation with our intellectual faculties. When we are in the grip of craving or fury, head-over-heels in love or recoiling in dread, it is the limbic system that has us in its grip.
Now, the seat of all passions is in the amygdala ( from the greek word for “almond”). It is an almond-shaped cluster of interconnected structure perched above the brainstem at the bottom of the limbic ring.
While limbic brain does most of the brain’s learning and memory, amygdala specialises in emotional matters, the emotional significance of events.
Without amygdala our life would be stripped of personal meanings.
If the initial reaction of the nervous system by answering the most primitive questions, “Is this something I hate? That hurst me? Something I fear?” is confirmative, it triggers amygdala to react instantaneously, acting like an alarm system throughout the body.
As a result, the hormones of fight-or-flight are activated, centres for movement are mobilised, muscles, gut and cardiovascular system are activated.
Amygdala is the reason why we could be emotionally hijacked.
Now, amygdala communicates with the neocortex, where reason and judgment of our thinking mind can overrule the blind emotion.
The connections between the amygdala( and related limbic strictures) and the neocortex are the hub of the battles between head and heart, thought and feeling.
Now, how not to be a slave to emotion and live just by the impulse is by using the capacities of our thinking brain. They are always there at our disposal.
This is what it means to be a highly conscious human being. A conscious human being doesn’t live in reactions. She has a power to choose her response by checking in with reasons, logic and evidence before getting overwhelmed by unsubstantiated assumptions.
When you think about it, most of what we fret about isn’t linked to the actual reality.
Don’t get hacked off by insignificant events.
Even if you have a good reason to worry about something, ask yourself, “What is the point of tormenting myself?”
Worry is a wasted energy. Challenge the energy of worry to something more constructive, like looking for a solution or reframing the event. Use your head, not just your heart. When they work together in harmony, we are in the most optimal state.
‘Life is a comedy for those who think, and a tragedy for those who feel“ ~Horace Walpole