Beyond Blue

Then again, maybe we shouldn’t blame stress on technology and taxing jobs. Maybe if we weren’t fretting over 350 e-mails in our inbox, then we’d worry about something else because we have primitive, monkey brains.

In “The Emotional Brain,” Joseph LeDoux, a professor of neuroscience at New York University, explains the “fear system” in laboratory animals and humans. The almond-shaped clump of tissue called the amygdala can be a real troublemaker. Whenever you sense potential danger (26 voice-mails on your cell phone coming to life like the Nutcracker), the amygdala triggers an “oh, crap!” reaction, pumping adrenaline and other (not so great) hormones into your bloodstream.

A fraction of a second later, the higher, more educated, evolved, sophisticated (Harvard professor type) region of the brain gets the signal and takes on the case, digging for the truth, sometimes accusing the amygdala of being an over-reactive alarmist. Unfortunately we experience the fear more vividly than we do the rational response, and make decisions based on the immature brat of an amygdala.

The trick is teaching the amygdala to chill out while you get the real story from the upper regions of the brain, where you’ll get a more thoughtful, considerate analysis.

In other words, try not to act like a monkey.

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