That moment when your hands start shaking, palms sweaty, your chest is tight, and you can’t take a full breath in – we’ve all been there. Each and every one of us experiences our reptilian brain every day.
For the life of you, you can’t seem to articulate what you need to say because your emotions have seemingly hijacked your entire physiology, including your brain – leaving you uptight, shaky, sweaty, and feeling about half as smart and a quarter as cool as you usually are.
Don’t you love it? We human beings love to pretend that we are rational, until moments like these hit us hard and remind us that our emotions can completely override our reason and intellect – and even our physical response.
And, being human, you have inherited a certain part of your brain that is so good at doing this to you, that it hardly matters who you are or how much you’ve worked on yourself. This part of your brain is literally designed to hit the override button on every other function of your brain and body.
Read on to learn about fight-or-flight response, what the reptilian brain is, and how to override it.
Our Nervous System’s Fight-or-Flight Response and What the Reptilian Brain Does
Though the reptilian brain sure doesn’t seem like your friend, it actually used to be a human being’s best friend. You see, the reptilian brain is designed with one thing in mind: survival.
What is the Reptilian Brain?
All the reptilian brain cares about are the most basic of needs (safety, sex, sustenance) and fulfilling them at any cost – even if that cost is completely overriding your rationality and flooding your system with so much adrenaline that you stop thinking and focus all your faculties on either killing what’s in front of you, or running full-speed away from it.
Fight or flight.
This response used to work quite well for early hominids, and is most likely one of the main reasons why we still exist as a species.
Nowadays, the reptilian brain is a bit outdated and has become more of an enemy than an ally.
Back in the day, your survival depended on staying in good standing with your social group. Exile from this group could lead to a lack of food and other resources, resulting in death. If someone in your pack were to insult you, or put you in bad standing with the rest of the group, your reptilian brain was there to help you literally stand up and fight for yourself.
But nowadays, this doesn’t work so well when Peggy from accounting harshly disagrees with your ideas in the company board meeting. Suddenly, you are internally going from 0 to 100, pumped with adrenaline and suppressing a desire to literally END HER.
The reptilian brain can also take responsibility for more low-level anxiety. Just as in the example with Peggy, your reptilian brain doesn’t realize that we (mostly) live in a world now where our survival is not immediately threatened.
Suddenly, you are internally going from 0 to 100, pumped with adrenaline and suppressing a desire to literally END HER.
The reptilian brain can go off over work issues (not doing a good job = losing our source of income = losing our source of food and shelter = imminent death), relationship issues (that flirty remark = wanting to steal my mate = loss of my ability to reproduce = death through lack of continuity), family interactions, etc.
That part of our brain just doesn’t understand that we now have more resources in our modern world that make it a lot easier for us to maintain our most basic survival needs.
Here’s Why You Should Override Your Reptilian Brain
When you start to understand the reptilian brain – and integrate your modern knowledge with the ancient wiring – you begin to realize that it is one of the crucial pieces of our ability to better ourselves as human beings – both in a practical sense of achieving greater success, and in a spiritual sense of becoming more loving and kind human beings.
It even plays into the path of enlightenment.
So much hinges upon our ability to override the reptilian brain so that we don’t sabotage ourselves, our work, our relationships, and our happiness.
Your reptilian brain can get in the way of finding a balanced perspective, practicing compassion, and pursuing happiness.
How to Override Your Reptilian Brain in 3 Simple Steps
So how do we get over these powerful, adrenaline-charged, emotion-charged reactions? It’s actually quite easy to override this wiring and work with your reptilian brain rather than against it.
The first step is accepting that this is not YOU. This is BIOLOGY. The second you can stop identifying with your reptilian brain, you give yourself freedom. It’s not you who wants to literally murder your annoying coworker, it’s your biology. It’s just a primitive part of your brain, and accepting that fact will literally set you free.
The next step would be to employ techniques that help you quiet down that overactive biology to give that more patient frontal lobe a chance to take back control. As basic as it sounds, deep breathing exercises work incredibly well for this.
Try taking several deep, slow breaths into the bottom of your belly until you feel calm again. I also highly recommend a practice called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). You can find plenty of demonstrations of this simple and quick practice online, or you can check out mine here.
And the final step, which will really take you into mastery, is regular meditation. Meditation, when done on a consistent basis, literally develops the parts of the brain that work to counteract the reptilian brain.
As science has discovered, this is not just a mental or spiritual process, it is physical as well, producing measurable changes in the human noggin.
Find Bliss in Balance
Being a human being is genuinely a trip, and it is also a challenge. This is just one example of the paradoxical nature of the human experience, one where we struggle on a daily basis with opposing forces inside of us.
On one side, we have the part of us that aspires to be great, patient, loving, maybe even saintly, and on the other side, we have a part of our brain that literally wants to fight, kill, or tackle every challenge it encounters.
Rewire Your Fight or Flight Response and Tame Your Reptilian Brain
Ultimately, the choice is up to us, and what we choose goes a long way to determine who we become and the direction our lives take, perhaps even beyond the human realm.
As a fellow human being I wish you the best in mastering yourself to the point that your own inherited biology does not dictate who you are and how you live your life.
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