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Our Two Brains: How Stress Hijacks Our Rational Brain


We have two brains. One is our original survival-oriented reflex brain that reacts without thinking. The doctor taps our knee with a rubber mallet and our leg jerks. Hence the phrase, knee-jerk reaction. Sense a threat, move away. Sense a pleasure, move closer. Sense food, eat it.


As human skulls evolved, our expanding foreheads created space for our rational brain that we can use to identity options, weigh pros and cons, and solve complex problems. When we feel safe, our rational brain dominates. When we feel threatened, our reflex brain kicks in and our ability to make wise, informed decisions is impeded. 


Stress hijacks our brain. Scammers influence our behavior by activating our reflex brain. For example, the email that appears to have been sent from Amazon indicating that your credit card is about to be charged $3k. "Click the link below to cancel the order," it says. Since our reflex brain responds faster than our rational brain processes, the scammers are betting you click the link before your rational brain is fully engaged.


In the past 4 years, we have collectively experienced a lot of threats. First, there was uncertainty about how to protect ourselves from a novel virus. As pandemic fears eased, there was uncertainty about the economy. Shuttered factories restarted gradually leading to supply chain issues. Low supply / high demand led to rising prices. As schools reopened, the learning loss became apparent. Our social support systems dwindled as many of us continued to work from home. In 2023 the Surgeon General of the US declared an epidemic of loneliness as detrimental to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We continue to experience major storms, droughts, and wars. 


As uncertainties mount, our survival-oriented reflex brain revs in overdrive. We feel worried, overwhelmed, isolated, or angry most of the time. We seek to restore a sense of safety and predictability by controlling our circumstances, including the people around us. Although differences of opinion are nothing new, people who are not part of “our tribe” seem more threatening than in the past. Despite the triggering news reports, most of us are not in any immediate danger--but our reflex brain doesn't know that. As long as reflex brain senses danger, it grasps the rudder ordering rational brain below deck.


Reflex brain is critical to our survival but it is not designed to captain the ship. Considering all the stressors coming at us, we should spend time every day soothing our nervous system. There are videos on my channel that will guide you through techniques such as intentional breathing, tapping, or grounding that silence the alarm bell allowing rational brain to take the helm.


If this content appeals to you, I invite you to join my Intention Circle. It's free and every Friday you receive bonus content created exclusively for Circle members. Join by noon Eastern on Thursday, February 29 to be entered to win a one-hour energy healing session.


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