Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Mind Your Brain - Part 2: The Intellectual Brain

In a previous post, Mind Your Brain – Part 1: The Primitive Brain, I described the Primitive brain (a subconscious, emotional part of the brain also known as the Limbic system) and its role in stress. This time, I want to focus on the Intellectual brain, often called the Cerebral Cortex, Neocortex or Main Cortex.

Contrary to the Primitive brain, the Intellectual brain is rational, solution-focused and positive. It’s what we have and animals don’t tend to have. When we are operating from this part of the brain, things in our lives go smoothly. If we do hit a bump in the road, we cope with it. We are in control and we make decisions that are right for us. We accept how things are, and we get on with it or we make the necessary changes. We focus on finding solutions, not dwelling on problems. Furthermore, we focus on what we want, not what we don’t want. And we have the ability to think clearly and make a proper assessment of any situation we are in. 

The Intellectual brain can handle stress to a certain point; in fact, we need a bit of stress to get us up in the morning (when cortisol, a stress hormone, is released for example). We also have a choice when we’re in the Intellectual brain – we choose to be happy, or we choose to use anger when we feel there has been an injustice, for instance. 

However, when too much stress and anxiety is accumulated, we reach a tipping point, and once we past the tipping point we lose intellectual control and the Primitive brain takes over. The level of the tipping point is different for each of us.

To re-gain our intellectual control, we need to move from the Primitive brain ‘operating system’ back into the Intellectual brain ‘operating system’. We can do this by managing our levels of anxiety and stress. In other words, we need to learn how to relax. When we relax, we are in control. Our anxiety has gone down and we can cope, or more importantly, we can start to create our lives the way we want them again.

The relationship between the Intellectual brain and the Primitive brain can be seen as a parent/child relationship. The Intellectual brain is the parent and can put its foot down with the Primitive brain, i.e. the child. The child knows when to throw a tantrum to get what he or she wants; that is when the parent isn’t feeling strong and the child knows the parent will give in. The Primitive brain acts in the same way – it throws a tantrum to get what it wants (to be in control), we give in and the more often we do so, the stronger the Primitive brain becomes.

But like any parent/child relationship, the parent can take back control and say “enough is enough”. The more often the Intellectual brain puts its foot down, the stronger this part of the brain becomes. Ensure you’re managing your stress levels at the same time, and you’ll be well on your way to creating change.

In the next part of this series on the brain, I will talk about specific ways in which we can help ourselves get back into the Intellectual brain. For now, how do you notice when your Intellectual brain is running the show, and when your Primitive brain is taking control? Can you start to put your foot down?

Next time: Mind Your Brain - Part 3: The Stress Basket


linda@adventuresinexpatland.com said...

Really enjoying this series. You've taken a complex subject and made it accessible. Keep it up, can't wait for the next installment!

Carrie said...

Thanks Linda, I am pleased you're enjoying the series. The next installment shall be published soon!