Hack your emotional brain - and decrease pain

Our brains are very well constructed. It consists of three different parts, each of which has different tasks. By learning how the different parts of your brain work, you better understand why some exercises can help you. 

Three different brain parts

The first part of the brain is called the 'reptile brain'. It's at the very bottom of the brain, towards the neck. This part of the brain mainly ensures that we 'stay alive' because it automatically regulates all kinds of basic things in our body. Here, for example, breathing is regulated. We call this the reptile brain, because this part of our brain has a lot in common with the brain of reptiles! 

The middle part of the brain is also called the 'mammalian brain' or 'emotional brain'. This is located in the middle of the brain, above the reptile brain. Other mammals have this part of the brain as well. Here, too, all the information is automatically processed and it is mainly determined which 'emotional reaction' follows. In this part of the brain it is largely determined whether the (danger) stimuli that come from the body are converted into the feeling of pain. More about this later.

The last part, the well-known 'twists' of our brain, is called the 'human brain', or sometimes the 'cognitive brain'. This part of the brain is most developed in humans. It allows us to make decisions, to be aware of what we are doing and to think about the future, for example. This part of the brain is also important in the development of pain, all ideas and worries about pain, and how we focus our attention, influences the feeling of pain. Many strategies on this blog have to do with this part of the brain.

Our emotional brain

Now I'd like to take a closer look at the 'emotional brain'. We sometimes say that this is where the 'alarm centre' of the pain is located. This is where the decision is made as to whether the alarm bells of pain will ring. So it would be nice if you could quickly adjust this part of the brain differently.

Unfortunately, that 'quick adjustment' will not work. A disadvantage of this part of the brain is that you don't just change it. The emotional brain does its work outside your consciousness. For example, you can't decide whether something makes you sad or not - it just happens. 

Yet it is possible to train this part of the brain. The interesting thing about the emotional brain is that it doesn't really 'understand' what is real - and what isn't. 

An example: When you watch a scary movie, you know that you are watching a movie. Still, you feel all kinds of things during the film, including tension and maybe even fear. Your 'emotional brain' doesn't understand that it's not real and still makes fabrics that give this feeling! 

How to hack the emotional brain

This can also be applied the other way around. The emotional brain is always shouting 'DANGER' when there is pain. You want to train your brain as much as possible to shut down this message of danger. This can be done by:

  1. Regular relaxation exercises to do
  2. Mindfulness skills training
  3. Using music to positively influence your brain 
  4. Using Virtual Reality to fool your emotional brain

Enough options! And remember that those who endure win - your emotional brain won't easily be persuaded... 

 

Louis Zantema
Louis Zantema, MSc

Louis is a GZ-Psychologist with a great passion for gaming. For him, a game training that offers therapy is the most valuable thing you can develop: especially for pain complaints, which are on the interesting intersection of body and mind. His aim is to make himself dispensable as a therapist.

04 September 2019 - 12:21