Review of Our Emotional Brain
Let's review how our brain contributes to our emotions. Our brain is the most complex organ in our body. Our brain builds itself by forming multiple circuits that coordinate our bodily functions, allow us to interpret information, and choose how to interact with the world and with each other. Our brain also is responsible for our mental and emotional functioning. Three specific brain areas—the reptilian brain, the limbic system, and the prefrontal cortex—contribute significantly to our emotions and behaviors. The way these three areas interact and build themselves in early childhood directly affects our emotions, behaviors, and personality later in life. It's essential to understand that all the areas of our brain are highly interconnected and interdependent.
The reptilian brain or primitive brain is the survival area of our brain, responsible for essential body
functions like heart rate and breathing. Our reptilian brain is where we respond to threat with the fight-flight-freeze response.
The second area of importance is the limbic system, often called the emotional brain, contributing to motivation, emotions, memory, and personality.
The third area of discussion is our prefrontal cortex (PFC), our executive brain. This area is the highest-functioning, most developed part of our brain. The prefrontal cortex allows flexible thinking, which is our ability to adjust to changes in situations and problems that arise in our life; our PFC gives us self-regulation, which is our ability to regulate our thoughts, emotions, attention, and behavior. Our PFC gives us impulse and emotional control. The PFC combines information from other areas of the brain to help us make intelligent choices. When stressed, we can lose these regulatory functions.
These three areas can malfunction due to extreme stress, allowing one or more of these areas to become over-or under-reactive and out of balance, creating emotional problems, frustration, anxiety, depression, and difficulties in thinking and learning. We can become foggy-brained and have difficulty making decisions, allowing us to fall into destructive habits, obsessive thinking, and impulsive behaviors, all because of stress. Learning how these areas work and interact will help us understand ourselves, our emotions and behaviors, and how stress affects our emotional life.
Learn how your brain develops and creates our emotions and personality and how stress can alter our brain, creating chronic stress, anxiety, and depression.