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  • Kirsti Gwynn

This is Why You Can't Think Straight When You're Emotional



When survival is your main concern, your brain's limbic system in our jumps to action, often quicker than you can even be conscious of. You may have experienced this before by swerving abruptly out of danger on the roads, or having ducked suddenly out of the way when you almost walked into something.


This is your ‘hot’ emotional system, and it is geared for keeping you safe.


But what about when you need to stay calm and controlled, in the face of stress?


A work problem or an upsetting disagreement with someone you love also triggers the ‘hot’ system’s GO response: it registers that you are in danger (that danger can be emotional pain) and causes us to fight or flee (perhaps by sabotaging our own efforts, or pushing someone away).


Later, we might regret having been rash – how could we have damaged something we worked so hard to build? Why couldn’t we have been kinder, more understanding?


On the opposite side of things, there is the cool, cognitive system. This is the most evolved part of your brain and essentially your ability to 'think straight': to analyse, to plan, to consider information, or to pursue a goal.


The ‘hot’ limbic system and the ‘cool’ cognitive system are opposites – when one works more, the other works less. Neuro-imaging studies have confirmed this.


So is it possible to learn to engage our cool system even when emotional stress activates our hot system’s urge to GO?


It absolutely is, and it doesn’t mean turning off your feelings. It means developing your emotional intelligence.