Going the distance

Strong emotions short-circuit logic

By Edward T. Creagan, M.D. August 29, 2012

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If the stress in your life is more than you can cope with, get help right away.

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  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

You're angry, frustrated and tired. You're running late. As you rush out the door, you realize you're forgotten your keys.

Often in a fit of anger or frustration, we say things that are hurtful. In a moment of lashing out, we fire off an email or a Tweet that we wish we could retrieve.

Everyone can relate to these scenarios. So what's going on here?

There's now overwhelming evidence that during times of strong and powerful emotions, our brain becomes flooded with chemicals, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine, that short-circuit and interfere with the parts of the brain affecting judgment, reasoning and logic. Specific parts of the brain actually become smaller and less biochemically active.

Hence the wisdom of the advice to count to 10 — or better yet to 1,000 — or to sleep on it. When the heat of the moment has passed and you're calmer, you can think more clearly. Taking time to chill out can prevent remorse and embarrassment over regrettable behavior or poor decisions made under stress.


Edward T. Creagan, M.D.

Follow on Twitter: @EdwardCreagan

Join the discussion at #Stress.

7 Comments Posted

Aug. 29, 2012