Why Can’t I Just CALM DOWN?!

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Do you ever think “I am an adult, why can’t I just calm down?” Do you ever wonder why it can be so difficult to just let something go or stay calm in the moment? You know you SHOULDN’T get angry or nervous, but you can’t seem to control yourself no matter what you say to yourself. 

The answer to this mystery lies in the brain’s functioning. It happens that there are actually several parts of the brain that control our responses. Disclaimer: This is a very simplified explanation of the brain. Essentially we first developed our brains as reptiles, then developed the mammalian parts of our brain, then the human. Both these older more primitive parts of our brain function just as our most evolved brain. 

The older parts of our brain (the reptilian brain) function as danger response systems. Our brains may perceive danger as anything from a threat to our relationships, a predator attacking us, or loss of a job, etc. And it responds physically to this danger no matter whether the danger is physical or relational. 

When the reptilian brain responds to perceived danger, it tends to hijack the other functioning of the brain. This means when your body responds to the reptilian brain’s danger alarm, it takes over to keep us safe - usually through fight (anger) or flight (anxiety). While the mammalian brain and prefrontal cortex are still running, they are not in our control. That is why we experience lashing out or obsessive thinking, often worrying. 

The more evolved area of our brain - the prefrontal cortex can veto signals of danger. This is often achieved through practice of awareness and response to our bodily reactions (primitive brain’s response to danger). Over time, the prefrontal cortex more efficiently and effectively vetoes the brain’s chemical response to danger. Turning off the fight or flight response, allowing us to calmly and logically respond to challenges and stress. 

This is a large component of the work I do with many clients, guiding them to respond and regulate their brains, bodies and nervous systems to most effectively respond to stress and challenges, especially when they are feeling triggered and unable tocontrol their mind body responses. 

If you are interested in reading more on the subject, I recommend books and publications by Pat Ogden and Janina Fisher.

If you are interested in learning more and would like a free 20 minute consultation, contact me at kim@bravecounseling.com or 240-480-0152. I work in person in Denver, CO or over secure virtual video chat for those outside of the DC area. 

Kimberly Ottinger