The brain is an amazing thing. I mean, all the advances we’ve made in computers and artificial technology and we are only beginning to scratch the surface of what the brain is capable of. And while computers might be able to make exact calculations and reactions faster than a human can, they can only do what they are programmed to, whereas humans can take in vast amounts of information, identify the important information, and adjust as necessary. And if you don’t believe me, think about the next time you were about to hit a low hanging branch. Chances are you ducked in time because your brain focused on the imminent threat and pushed all the other information being received to the back burner.
Yet the brain also has some annoying hangups that can be particularly troublesome when battling mental illnesses. And this is the difference between the knownings and the feelings.
What I mean by that is that the emotional reaction comes from a very primal part of your brain. And it has already decided on an emotional reaction and started down that road while your analytical mind is still catching up. An excellent example of this is PTSD. A specific trigger activates the emotional response associated with that trauma and kicks the fight or flight system into gear before the analytical part of the brain can identify that there isn’t actually a threat. And while PTSD is a great example, the same can be true for many mental illnesses.
And the problem this creates is that even if we know something different, it is so hard to go against our feelings. This too has evolutionary sources. For example, if our ancestors were walking along the plains and got a bad feeling, even if they don’t know there is a lion waiting to pounce, they still stayed alive if they followed that bad feeling. Meanwhile the person that followed only what they knew got eaten by that lion and never got to pass their genes along.
Put more bluntly, our emotional responses may pick up on things that are analytical mind misses. So these bad feelings have a reason, even we don’t know they are there. And this is how the brain operates, which is why it takes so much knowing and so much self-talk to overcome that emotional response.
And there is some exciting research into how best to manage this if someone is struggling with a mental health issue, but unfortunately the research is likely still a long ways away from becoming a widely available tool. Nevertheless, there are things you can do to help.
Mindfulness meditation helps your body be more in touch with you mind, both the emotional and analytical parts. Breathing exercises can help slow the emotional response. And just as their are triggers for your fight or flight response, there can be triggers you can learn to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is pretty much the opposite of your fight or flight response. It is actually sometimes known as the rest and digest system, which sounds a lot better than fight or flight.
And if you struggle with the balance between knowing and feeling, know that you are not alone. There are so many of us battling that battle as well. That is one of the reasons sites like this one exist. And as such, I thank you for reading.