Jan 22, 2017 filed under Courage, Prudence, Temperance.

Brain upset

My emotions have been pulled every which way during the last few days. Happiness in listening to things I agree with. Unhappiness listening to those I disagree with.

But since I want to be happy, it’s got me asking what part my own brain is playing in this. Can we face those who disagree with our strongly held convictions while maintaining peace of soul? Yes. And part of the answer lies in our brain chemistry!

Deciding to do what’s good is always possible, but it can be harder when emotions flare up. Negative emotions can trample the good we mean to do and leave it in the dust. So it helps to be aware of the sneaky things our own brain is doing behind our backs.

For example, when we feel threatened, the amygdala (uh-MIG-duh-luh) fires up, sending out adrenaline, giving us that fightin’ spirit that makes us want to retaliate for the affront. (Check out a previous post on avoiding “amygdala hijack.”)

But the amygdala’s a culprit in another way. As the chief archivist-of-past-pain, it dredges up similar injuries, whether raw or long-forgotten. It’s what makes us say, “There they go—they always do this!” We overlook any good “they” may have done, which releases more adrenaline, making us even madder.

Here’s the thing—when we allow ourselves to get us too upset, our ability-to-think automatically shuts down. That’s built into our wiring. And then we become, well, less than our best selves. We’re tempted us to act in a less-than-adult way.

Below are two tips for sending the brain’s archivist back to the stacks and refusing to look at the old, hurtful memories that take us out of the present moment:

  1. Recognize that the adrenaline in our system is causing us to be upset. Often, this is enough to let the “thinking brain” take control again, which enables us get back our broader perspective and freely choose to love. When the thinking brain has first place, we can fight with all our might for what’s right without wasting our precious energy on resentment.
  1. Name one good thing about the person, or people, who are making us mad. Better yet, write it down. If we can’t do that, we’ll know our brain has shut down our ability to reason and we’re not acting from that fully human place where we can see that God (shocker alert!) loves them as much as He loves us.

Virtue is about freedom to choose what’s good. If my own brain hijacks my ability to reason and to love, I have lost that freedom—and it’s time to remind my emotions that they exist to serve my thinking brain and not the other way around!

Love always,



10 Responses to “Winning the Adrenaline Wars”

  1. Jini Druliner

    This is a good one Rose. Very valuable. I’ll definitely try to do this the next time I get sharp tongued with someone. My whole family will be grateful!!! Ha ha ha!

  2. Marsha

    God bless you Rose. What do we do with the negative emotions. I look for God’s love and mercy. Yesterday, I attended a beautiful funeral if I have the permission to describe it like that. In that church I felt God’s presence so powerfully in the homily, in the family members and in all that was shared about their mother. I thanked God for the opportunity to witness such a Christ-filled service and saw the joys and blessings of a life well-lived in Christ and for others. Outside the Church was a March which was in stark contrast to God’s love, peace and mercy. I prayed how wonderful it would have been if those who marched was able to experience what I did. May God bless us with His peace.

    • Rose Folsom

      Let’s be examples of God’s peace and join everyone, of whatever opinion, who is trying to follow the Prince of Peace.

  3. Tom Roberts

    It’s hard to stop an adrenaline storm once it starts. For someone older like me it’s running a 1939 race car in the Indianapolis 500. It’s going to cost and I’m going to lose. Replacing the adrenaline storm takes practice; beginning to understand that with practice I might become good at it. This involves falling in love with practice, the kind of practice that distinguishes a good violinist or pianist or surgeon. So, falling in love means dwelling on my love, imagining where my love might be and going there. It means looking forward to my next meeting. For many years I’ve gone to the Sermon on the Mount or the 23rd Psalm or searching the writings of Teresa of Avila. There are spiritual exercises such as The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or “Only for Today” by John XXIII. When I could I went to the 6:30 a.m. daily Mass, getting my marching orders from the 60 second homily. Lately it’s been looking forward to what going to pop up on the VirtueConnection blog then writing a comment. Writing the comment is practice. If I keep at I’ll have the 10,000 hours of practice that makes for a good performance; violin, piano or life.

    • Rose Folsom

      Agreed. For you, for warriors, and for those who have experienced serious violence the amygdala is not so easy to tame. You and everyone in such a situation has my prayers for God’s protection.

  4. Rose Folsom

    “I read Rose’s piece about how to deal with people who hold different political views than your own and it seemed to me to be written wishing that, somehow, things could be different between people of different political faiths. This last election has seemed to be as much of a “religious” war as anything I have ever seen. Each side has demonized the other without trying to comprehend much more than media-supplied soundbites. It’s all very disappointing that so few of us are even remotely willing to listen to the fundamentals of one another’s ideas. And then no one seems to be able to agree to disagree and leave it at that. In truth, no matter who is right or wrong (all very subjective, anyway), none of us can actually make a difference (except in our own minds).

    It’s only politics and to take it too seriously is to lose long-time deeply loved friends.

    There is nothing to be gained by discussing politics (or even the weather because that, too, has been politicized). Somehow, when we were all younger, politics wasn’t nearly so important. “

    • Jini Druliner

      WOW! Thank you Rose …you helped me bow out from these discussions on politics. Back to my dog walking and the Rosary!

      • Rose Folsom

        I saw you walking three dogs Friday as I drove down Sligo on way home from Holy Cross. Three elegant whippets in their blue winter coats against the cold. And a pretty lady walking them.

  5. Vanessa Parks


    Thank-you for sharing yet another VIRTUE!!!

    God Bless