How does the brain affect my emotions?

How does the brain affect my emotions?


The opening title seems like a silly one. Of course, my brain affects me- it controls everything, but do we really understand the relationship between our emotions and brain? When our limbic system is predominantly in control, we perceive threats everywhere – going shopping, taking children to school, being invited to a social event- activities others seem to take in their stride, which further adds to your anxiety of ‘why is this so hard for me?’

Are you on edge all the time?

During this state the hypothalamus (part of the limbic system) releases cortisol resulting in that feeling of ‘being on edge’ all the time. To halt this over-production of cortisol, our perception of the world must change. This is achieved by recognising ‘what’s been good?’ this can be anything – a delicious croissant at breakfast; taking the children swimming; going for a run; reading a book – the list is endless. The common denominator being what makes you feel good, specifically what positive actions and interactions. These can be small steps but enough to be pushed out of your comfort zone creating a sense of achievement and ability to change.

Positive actions and interactions

When partaking in enjoyable actions and interactions, it triggers thoughts such as ‘wow, I really enjoyed that’ or ‘I should do this more often’. This leads to positive thoughts reinforcing the positive actions and interactions. These are interdependent on each other and only requires one to change in order for the domino effect. When we experience enjoyment, we release the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps us to stabilise our mood. When you start to appreciate the good things in your life (no matter how small) our intellectual mind (left prefrontal cortex) takes control leading on rational decision making. Is it this simple? Yes, it is but it does require a desire to want to be different.

Research indicates low levels of serotonin is linked to poor emotional processing such as depression, OCD and social anxiety disorder. When serotonin production is hindered by consistent high levels of cortisol, anxiety and a multitude of other health problems such as cardiovascular and respiratory problems are prevalent. There is a vast amount of research that supports the production of serotonin being critical to developing a stabilise mood. In other words, being resilient and flexible when things don’t always go to plan. Therefore, being able to find another way to deal with situation rather than triggering a disproportionate response i.e. ‘why does this always happen to me?’

Furthermore, activities creating a sense of satisfaction such as a reaching a goal weight or ticking off tasks on the ‘to do list’ or completing a run, we release dopamine. This neurotransmitter creates pleasurable experiences and is linked to the development of repeated activity. In other words, when you experience dopamine you want more and therefore your brain encourages you to partake in the activity numerous times (this also applies to eating chocolate and addictions but that’s for another time). Repetition strengthens habits. Habits become part of who we are and how we do things.

Serotonin and Dopamine are essential to our overall well-being because these support us to operate from our intellectual mind. Our brain perceives the world and this determines how we feel. Hopefully, this blog has demonstrated that even the smallest change can initiate a tidal wave of positive change.