When the Brakes Fail

When the brakes failHave you ever been in a stressful confrontation only to find your mind is a blank? Or maybe you have exploded back at your antagoniser? Either way, you’ve experienced a pre-frontal cortex FAIL! Your pre-frontal cortex (PFC) is sometimes referred to as the brain’s CEO. It is the part of your brain that is responsible for many “higher level” functions including problem solving, abstract thinking, and regulating emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. So, when your PFC is functioning optimally, it won’t let you say that ludicrous comment to your boss that could have you fired, or jump out of a plane without a parachute.

But what happens under stressful situations? We’ve all heard of the “fight or flight” response (“freezing” is the often ignored component of the response). When confronted by an acutely stressful event our heart races, our blood pressure increases, our hands sweat, blood rushes away from non-vital organs and toward the muscles, glucose levels increase in the blood, our pupils dilate to allow greater visual acuity. All of this happens because of stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol, among others) released instants after the encounter, and all to better equip us to fight or run from our opponent (or if that’s futile, freeze).

All very useful … if you’re confronting a tiger. But for most of us, the response is more a hindrance than a help. In the heat of the moment, a release of chemicals from the more primitive regions of the brain (including those involved in generating intense emotions) actually inhibits the activity of the PFC. So just when you want to say something to defuse the situation, something that requires thoughtful consideration, your PFC lets you down.  You explode back, or you “survive” the situation until it passes (your aggressor leaves) then in the calmness of your office, when your PFC kicks back in, you think of all of the useful things you should have said.

So what can be done about your floundering CEO? In next week’s blog we’ll give you some tips.

If your brakes keep failing, give Beyond IQ a call, we’ll replace the pads!

Written by Deb Adams. Posted in Workplace & Personal Relationships

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Deb Adams

Hi, I'm Deb Adams. My background is in neuropsychology and neuroscience, and my passion is everything brain related! I'm particularly excited about brain plasticity (the fact that our brains are always changing and changeable) and what this means for enhancing every aspect of our lives.

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