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Neuroscience of Emotion

Neural Hijacking

In the past it was believed that information from your senses was analyzed by the thinking brain (cortex) first. Now with new scientific findings we know your perceptions, go directly to the emotional brain (amygdala) without passing through the thinking, decision-making brain first.

Daniel Goleman in his research and book on emotional intelligence sheds great light on this subject. He describes chronic stress and the subsequent feelings of loss of control and hopelessness as a neural hijacking in which the emotional brain triggers emotional reactions before the thinking brain has any chance to pick up a signal or evaluate it.

For example, imagine you have been working overtime for three weeks in a row. You just received a call from your sons school to come in for an urgent parent teacher conference to discuss his failing grades. In that moment, your emotional brain is causing a cascade of reactions and adaptations on hormonal, chemical, cellular and energetic levels impacting physical and psychological well-being. This occurs before you ever have a chance to logically evaluate the situation.

Emotions Have More Neural Power

Not only does the emotional brain respond first to your perceptions but research also demonstrates there are more neural pathways connecting the emotional brain to the thinking brain than the thinking brain has to the emotional brain.

Thus, it is not as effective to use your thoughts to quell your emotions. Maybe by telling yourself to ‘relax and wait and see what happens’ you will be able to suppress them for a while at best. Given the degree of chronic perceived stress in our society, it is as if the emotional brain is stuck on survival mode flooding your thinking brain with fears, worries, and pressures. It is no surprise that anxiety disorders equate over half of mental health issues and 70% of doctor visits.

Coaching and Counseling

Hilary Stokes Ph.D. and Kim Ward Ph.D. have been a team for 20 years, specializing in mind, body, spirit psychology. They are the authors of the bestselling books The Happy Map: Your roadmap to the habit of happiness and Manifesting Mindset: The 6-step formula for attracting your goals and dreams and founders of Authenticity Associates Coaching and Counseling. They are passionate about combining the best of holistic and traditional approaches to health and happiness. If you are interested in learning the answers to the most frequently asked questions on how to decrease stress and increase happiness sign up for their free video series.


About the Authors

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Hilary Stokes Phd

Dr. Hilary Stokes is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice in San Diego, California. Dr. Hilary received her PhD in psychology with a specialty in transpersonal psychology from San Diego University for Integrative Studies, a master’s degree in social work from San Diego State University and a master’s degree in Sport Psychology from San Jose State University. In addition to her ….

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Kim Ward Phd

Dr. Kim Ward received her PhD in psychology with a specialty in transpersonal psychology from San Diego University for Integrative Studies. She also holds a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology from John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, California. Dr. Kim is a certified trauma-informed coach and life coach in private practice in San Diego, California. In…

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