Pop quiz: How similar are these two situations?
A twig snaps behind you. Whipping your head around, you see a mighty tiger barreling down on you at full speed. You and your hunting party stand your ground, spears poised to deliver a fatal blow.
Your teenage daughter’s friends drop her off fifty minutes late. You chew her out for not answering your calls and texts, and she gives you a flippant response. Afterwards, you can’t recall exactly what either of you said, but you do remember a lot of yelling and some creative cussing before she stormed off to her room.
Pencils down! I won’t ask you to submit your answer, but I’ll assume you said – rightly – that there isn’t much similarity between these two scenarios.
But here’s a funny thing: your brain doesn’t see it that way. In fact, in terms of how the brain responds, these two situations may as well be identical.
This Funny Thing Called “Flooding”
Remember our second blog post, about the “Lizard Brain”? We learned that the way the human brain responds to frustration and stress hasn’t really changed much since the caveman days. When we experience a threat, frustration, or anything that puts us on alert, our brain still defaults to fight-or-flight behavior. It sharpens our senses and gets us ready to kill or run to fight another day. This process is called “Flooding,” because our brain and body flood with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.
This is the perfect response to the first situation. The tiger wants us dead, and no amount of reasoning is going to convince it to look for a different snack. The problem is that the brain applies that same response to modern-day frustrations – like our tardy daughter, or someone cutting us off in traffic, or a disparaging remark from a colleague. In cases like these, flooding undermines us and sets us up for painful failures. Here are just a few effects of flooding on our brain and body:
- Loss of ability to communicate effectively
- Loss of judgment, critical thinking, and problem-solving ability
- Impaired hearing
- Thickening of blood, leading to increased risk of heart disease
- Reduced immune system function
Our brains are still stuck in the hunter-gatherer mindset, but the crises we face in day-to-day life have changed a lot in the intervening thousands of years. Usually, situations that cause us to flood are the situations where we need these thinking and communication skills the most! When you look at the effects it has on the brain, it’s easy to see how flooding sabotages us.
Keeping Your Cool
Flooding is a deeply ingrained habit. But like any habit, it can be broken with a little attention and effort. Here are three tricks we can use to train our brain away from flooding:
- Instead of getting angry, take a moment to think about what “Baby in the Back Seat” may be at the root of the issue
- Practice experiencing gratitude once or twice per day
- Look for opportunities throughout your day to experience connectedness with others
Each of these leverages neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire itself and build new connections. The more we engage our brain’s curiosity and connectedness circuitry, the easier it becomes. On top of helping us stay calm and collected, these habits build resilience and help our bodies recover from the health effects of stress.
To keep things succinct, we’re going to leave it there for now. In our next post, we’ll get more in-depth on these practices and why they’re so powrful. If you want to learn more in the mean time, we cover these issues in detail in our premier seminar and in our book. So keep an eye out, and we’ll see you next time!