What happens to us when we become too stressed or too emotional? Quite simply, biology kicks in and affects our ability to mentally perform. Every human will at some point experience this and knowing what happens and how to control it can save relationships, jobs, and many other life experiences.


Once we become too stressed, the front part of our brains shuts down (our thinking and rational part of the brain which makes us truly human) and the back part or animal brain kicks in firing (the part of the brain used for flight or fight times, reactivity, and basically the part of the brain that makes us an animal).  At the same time, our heart rate is increasing and chemicals (adrenaline and Cortisol) are being dumped into the blood stream preparing for fight or flight.


At the same time, your perceptions of situations are now impacted. You are prone to overreact, misjudge, and misinterpret what is happening. You may become on edge, jumpy, defensive, and tense. You are no longer able to truly listen to a person you are talking to. Rather, you are too focused on what to say next or just plain focused on yourself. You will have developed tunnel vision and may be striving to prove your point just to be right. Your insecurities will begin to enter the picture and further cloud your perceptions and judgments and most likely will be speaking for you!


At this point, you are truly emotionally intoxicated and your ability to mentally perform is greatly hindered! Continuing in this state of mind will only create further complications in the world around you and your relationships with others.


This process can happen whenever our minds perceive a potential threatening situation or just plain being overwhelmed. Whether the situation is real or not doesn’t matter as whatever you present to the mind you will feel. In other words, you can simply imagine a stressful situation in your mind, and this process will begin! Our insecurities are great at doing this.


So, how do we gain control of ourselves during times of high emotions, stress, or being overwhelmed? You can’t fight biology. If you think you can, then the next time you have to go to the bathroom try to hold it and see how successful you are! You need to use two steps to work with the biology to regain control:


Step One: Get control of your biology!

To do this, you will need to engage in deep breathing. Deep breathing, if done correctly, will successfully reduce your heart rate and therefore begin to reverse the biological process described above and you will have a return to normal functioning.


Usually, we have developed tunnel vision as well. To reduce the tunnel vision, simply focus on your peripheral vision while breathing. This will help slow down your perceptions.


Step Two: Control the “Monkey Mind”

If we don’t seek to control our minds, then our monkey minds will take control and will run from topic to topic continually until we our overwhelmed or feel like we are going crazy! We need to put the brakes on this mind train being driven by a monkey.


To do this, you will need to begin to direct your mind (using your five senses) to think about and focus upon what is happening in the present moment; this is called being mindful. Begin to notice what you see and begin to describe that to yourself. Next, what do you hear? What do you smell? If you are eating something, notice it’s taste and smell. Can you feel the chair you are sitting on? Or, can you feel the ground under your feet. Begin to notice your breathing, feeling it going in and out.


Basically, you are being highly focused upon what is going on around you right in the moment and not thinking about what happened or what is going to happen. Stay in the moment!


If all else fails, don’t worry because even if we don’t do anything, our monkey minds will at some point begin to think about something else thus distracting us and getting the train to switch tracks.


Both steps are not easy to do during difficult times and definitely requires practice! Begin today to use these two steps to help you navigate whatever your day may bring to you.



Chris Swenson is a licensed therapist who helps people overcome and face life’s most treacherous challenges. His office is located in Sterling, CO. For an appointment please call Chris at (970) 522-0796.