These two systems generally work in harmony, to help us function as rational, decision making human beings, but sometimes they also clash. Why is it that sometimes we get worked up and feel like we are “losing it”. Our perfectly justified reactions in the heat of the moment, often seem a complete over reaction, when we reflect on it, after we have calmed down. It seems that our fast thinking can sometimes overstimulate our emotional responses, and we feel, and indeed experience physiological changes in our bodies that replicate, a life threatening scenario. Before we have time to rationally assess the true threat, our quick reacting emotional brain highjacks all the resources thus draining the fuel from our slow thinking brain, thereby leaving us unable to rationally assess the reality of the situation.
When we feel we are not thinking straight, in fact that is exactly what is happening. Our rational thinking is gone and so we behave in ways that may surprise or even embarrass us later on, once everything is back to normal and we are able to think with our rational part of the brain. At the time, no amount of appealing for ourselves or anyone else to calm down and be rational will help, as its like calling for assistance from a vehicle that has run out of fuel. What helps is to break the cycle of emotional high-jacking, by deliberately doing something else or removing ourselves from the situation and coming back to it, once our emotional balance is restored. Deliberately asking yourself to identify what is happening, without putting any meaning to it, can help to draw resources back to our thinking brain a little faster.
So next time you see one of your team members acting a little crazy and over reacting to something, have a heart because they literally may be feeling like they are being attacked by a cave bear!