Effect of emotions on the brain

There is no doubt that emotions exert incredible amount of influence on your mind, body and soul. They direct your thinking, skewer your perspective and become the overriding influence in your life. Emotions are your strength and your weakness. They allow you to become intuitive and connect with people but a lack of control over them creates pain and misery. The brain has no option but to follow you in your thoughts and facilitate the process in which you want to use it.

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The busy brain

The brain is capable of processing a finite number of tasks at any given moment. This means that it is unable to process all the information it receives all at once. But it has to deliver results. And so it does the next best thing. It uses stored memories to replace the information it cannot process. Many of the optical illusions work on this basis. The eyes see something and the brain rushes in to fill in the bits that it cannot process with stuff from memories. This is perhaps the main reason why eyewitness testimony is a variation of the truth. Experiences of events and situations are not very different either. The brain rushes in to fill information and emotions from past memories.

The brain is a really important part of your body and is responsible for co-ordinating virtually everything. It uses 15% of the cardiac output, 20% of the oxygen and 25% of the glucose in your body. There is the conscious work to do which you knowingly feed it. Like playing sports, watching a film, etc. Then there is the subconscious work, like repairing your body, directing organs, etc. With so much to do, it has limited spare capacity to process other stuff. But if you preoccupy the brain and distract it then you disrupt the flow of information. With limited resources, the brain adapts. The preoccupation makes the brain forget about things like housekeeping. A day might not make a difference, nor a week. But do it repeatedly and for a long period of time and all of a sudden you start to get physical problems in your body. Because the brain was tied up, it did not get time to carry out maintenance. If you are constantly unders stress and anxiety then the emotions disrupt the flow of information and the brain is unable to look after you.

The Chemical Brain

The brain is a chemical factory where neurons fire a million times a second inside your skull. And although there is a lot science behind it, the simple fact is that thoughts carry the potential to change the chemical balance of your brain during the communication process. Other blogs cover the science behind the chemicals inside the brain so we will not go there. Let it suffice to say your brain changes with your thought. It would therefore follow that if your brain changes then you change. And if you change then you have different thoughts. So this becomes the chicken and egg situation in a positive and a negative way. Did the thought come first and change the brain or was it the change in the brain that triggered a different thought. Or was it the desire for change? Or was it something else?

Emotional factors

The area of your brain associated with emotions, triggers a cocktail of chemicals that help burn anything new you learn into your brain. This is why the emotional factors are essential in building new memories. Imagine that creating new memories is a standard process and it does not change. Then why do we remember some things and forget others? It has to do with emotions. The stronger the emotion, the stronger the memory! The chemicals released with emotion associated with that memory act like cement in sand and help engrain the memory. Similar emotions relating to a different event also allow easy referencing to these “cemented memories”. And it becomes easy to relive the experience.

On their own, repetitive thoughts tend to get engrained in your brain anyway. It is the process that converts short term memory into long term one. You will know this because you would have experienced it in school when you repeated things over and over to remember them in your exams. But add emotion to it and it is like adding fuel to a raging fire.

Lookout! New Religion

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Positive or negative emotions

Emotional biases are a part of your everyday life. While positive emotions tend to lift your spirits, negative emotions work on many levels to bring you down. At a basic level they distract your brain and preoccupy it. This means other stuff gets missed. Like basic maintenance. Negative emotions also create tracks in your brain. Emotions like anger, jealously, and such like, leave chemical traces that etch their paths in your brain and allow thoughts to travel down that path experiencing similar emotions. The tracks get deeper with repetition and time. Recall of memories makes them travel down the same track and is starts to skewer existing memories and strengthening the painful ones. Before you know it, you are going caught in a loop, unable to break free of the emotions that bind you.

If you smile, you will feel better. There is some weight in that theory. People who smile, laugh and are generally optimistic often find that their memory works quicker and their performance is improved. This mostly occurs because there is nothing disrupting the flow of information in your brain. The brain has time to look after you, carry out maintenance in the body and so on. There is no information block your brain and therefore there is a sense of peace.

The mind rules

But it all comes to a stop with the mind. A choice! The brain is ultimately a slave to the mind and the mind can direct the brain. But it comes down to one question in the end – what do you want from it? Because what the mind wants, the brain and the body will conspire to deliver. Do you want an unconscious life where you are a bystander and watch your negative emotions burn tracks in your mind, skewer your perspective and mess with your physical wellbeing? Or do you want to live a conscious and free life? Enforced with positive emotion, you are in control of your life and your brain has the time to do what it does best. Look after you!

So what is it that you want?


Terry Horne and Simon Wootton, Keep your brain sharp.

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