Awakening the BrainStress is the culprit often pointed to for emotions that are out of balance. Learning to regulate the emotions we feel is a powerful tool for enhancing our cognitive abilities because we think better when we are focused and positive in our expectations. In Awakening the Brain, I have offered a model for understanding the influence of emotion on human functions and proposed that emotions are information to guide us. When we let emotion take over, we are at the mercy of the reptilian reactivity that is deep within us to protect us. Unfortunately, that is a protective mechanism that is designed for emergency use only, but we are currently activating it as a daily lifestyle. Not a good idea! The American Psychological Association tells us (1/11/12) that 39% of Americans report their stress level has increased over the last year.

Lets look at the latest research findings from the Yale Stress Center published in January 2012 in the journal of Biological Psychiatry. In a recent interview, a healthy population of adult subjects was asked for the degree of traumatic and recent life altering stressful occurrences. MRI studies of the subjects’ brains were analyzed in relation to their cumulative stress levels. High stress levels were associated with revealing less grey matter in the prefrontal cortex. This region of the brain enables us to stop and think, take a deep breath, pay attention to our internal compass that sends out warning signals to guide us before we act, and enable us to shift and take a healthier course are slowly deteriorating under stress.

Although this is the first study to show this finding in a healthy population, it is consistent with prior research done in animals and psychiatric patients. Not a direction that I want to go in. The more often you recognize how close you are to the glass ceiling where the reactivity of the fight and flight response will go off and take over, the more likely you will be spared activating the adrenaline, stress hormones, and cortisol that negatively affect the brain and body.

In Awakening the Brain, I offer a model for understanding this complex survival chemistry intended to protect us and suggest we see emotion as information to guide us instead of rule us. When the point is well taken and the insight is achieved from the message your body’s reaction is telling you, you do not have to engage in the emotions and the chemistry that is not good for your body or your brain. You can be guided to better choices by the emotional information within you.


When have you made a neuro-choice to change the way you feel emotionally by taking a bigger perspective or focusing on compassion and then had a breakthrough of greater peace, joy, and fulfillment in your life?

About Charlotte Tomaino, PhD

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3 Responses to Emotion

  1. Twice this week, actually. I was slightly frustrated with situations involving two others, two different situations. In the first situation, I kept praying/reciting “Soften me, soften me, soften ME.” I have learned that attempting to be right or change the other only leads to more frustration and simply doesn’t work. I was amazed the next morning when this person called me, as if she, too, had softened by osmosis. When we change ourselves, the other just may, too. But that’s not even the point. I care about how I feel. In the second situation involving an ex-husband, I again was frustrated. So I waited until my heart shifted. Then rather than a sarcastic e-mail, I could speak from my heart which was only filled with love at that point. I also have a tatto scripted up my side which simply says, “Believe.” I do believe in the power of the mind to allow the grace to come in. Hope I win your book…would love to have your autograph. In the meantime, I’ll check it out on Amazon. Blessings

  2. Joan says:

    About two years ago as winter crept in, I remember staring at the morning fire and remember the past few years of winter depression. I had so much sadness then and staring at the fire reminded me of that dark tunnel. Right then and there I said to myself I will not yield to it this year. I don’t need it in my life, I can change my perspective and focus on the beauty that surrounds my life, my friends, my family and my talents. and so it was…. many wonder filled things have taken place in my life. I have volunteered more, spent less, enjoyed new aspects work, which comes to me in new opportunities often. My family and friends are flourishing, and my love for them grows deeper. Voila! As I often say, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

  3. Franis Engel says:

    To address the emotion of regret, I have used an exercise before falling asleep to build capacity, exercise forgiveness and build the skill of being able to do better if and when the time came again. It works best if it can be done while transitioning to the dream state that occurs before falling asleep.
    What I did was to deliberately re-play the situation when I did not say what I wanted to say or said the wrong thing or reacted in another way that caused my regret. Then I invented the situation where I did exactly what I wished I could have done, and role-played that film sequence a number of times. I made this fantasy more complete with how others might have reacted or responded. Then I repeated it again and again in order to “practice” it. Backing up to the moment of recognizing this was an important moment where I had a choice became part of the imaginary practice.

    There are a number of constructive effects. It helped remind me that I really couldn’t have done better at the time, meaning I became more likely to forgive myself.
    It also gave me a chance to “practice” doing what I intend to do next time something similar happens. This stimulated courage to become aware on the spot and seize the chance to connect my actions to my values.

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