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Our survival and our brain: The incidence of emotions in the fight/flight response

IN: Emotional intelligence.3 APRIL, 2019
Our survival and our brain: The incidence of emotions in the fight/flight response

When we think of the concept of "red-hot" emotions, the brain is not usually considered. In fact, we tend to think about emotions and emotional situations as the opposite of any rationality. It’s normal to hear "it is so rational" or "it is so emotional", as if one completely precludes the other. But that is not the reality.

 

Our survival depends on our emotional reactions and their rationality.

Actually, emotions have a very important role in our lives. They protect us from reality. But, how?

Let's imagine certain scenarios...

  1. Imagine that you are an individual without any emotion. You do not feel joy, fear, anger or shock and all your decisions have a justifiable reason.
  2. Imagine that you are an individual that lives on the edge of emotion – you do not think, you just react emotionally.

Now imagine what it would be like to live in these ways. How would you react to your day-to-day? Would you survive the small events that make up your life?

Let's imagine what might happen in each scenario:

  1. You are invited to skydive. Living without emotion, what’s the incentive for not jumping out of an aeroplane? You do not feel fear for yourself or for others, and as such, the thought of "it might be dangerous" would not cross your mind. Besides, you would not have any reason to jump, for what would be your incentive to do so?
  2. You hear an incomprehensible noise in the next room, but you would not have the ability to think that it could have been the wind hitting the window or a cat grazing the door. Living on the edge of emotion you would be assaulted by your extreme emotions and live in anxiety and deep panic putting yourself and others in danger.

 

Emotion VS Reason - The day-to-day balancing act

Let’s consider another situation:

What would you do?

You are not a rational being who would just shrug the situation away or an emotional being that would go into a deep panic.

We are both, so our normal behaviour would be a blend: We fell surprised to stop, some fear - why did we stop? - and discomfort. But we do not get carried away by these feelings, for as rational beings, we can take the necessary actions to guarantee our safety - press the emergency button and ask for help.

But there are times when this blend is not possible. Where rationality escapes between our fingers and we live moments emotionally. A perfect example of this situation occurs in phobias. Someone who suffers from Arachnophobia (spider phobia) will not care if the spider is 5 millimetres or if it’s not poisonous and will, in fact, continue to react with panic trying to escape as quickly as possible.

But are there exceptions? Of course! If there is a reason to overcome the phobia, you will do so. For example, if there is a child in danger across the spider, even suffering from Arachnophobia, you will think twice before fleeing, giving time for your rational side to start arguing and leading you to save the child.

 

How do emotions appear?

The primitive brain is responsible for the initial reaction to any situation. This is concentrated on the limbic system and more specifically in the amygdala. It is this little lump, inside the brain, which is responsible for that first moment of pause when faced with an event, and you are infected by the emotion before you even realize if it’s the situation is worthy of such emotion.

If you are thinking: "Why? That seems rather counterproductive" then let's examine the reason. Imagine an immediate threat. Will you have enough time to clearly state the steps to take? Or would it be better to have a "pre-installed" system that makes you react, leading to your survival?

This is where the fight/flight response is born. The amygdala is responsible for the immediate reaction to situations that led you to flee - like from a fire that endangers you; or to fight - like your thought of "I'm going to prove that I can” when someone says you cannot do something.

All emotions have a reason. There is even a reason for those situations where we later think “Why did I do this? It was embarrassing!” We feel joy and satisfaction within the moments that sustain our survival, as well as fear and distress within the moments who threaten it. Our brain is programmed for our success. It is programmed for our protection. 

So respect your reactions since they are helping you.

 

Inês Cabral | Project Manager at Bright Concept