How Emotions Hijack Your Brain

Did you know that your emotions and feelings hijack your brain and can lead us to very dangerous decision making?

Times of great peril and distress tend to distract us from God and can drive us into placing too much attention on ourselves and the situation that is causing us great discomfort.  Many times people turn to drugs and alcohol in order to cope with trials.  This is because these stressful situations tend to make us feel sorry for ourselves or we feel helpless and hopeless, therefore we desire something to remove our thoughts from our circumstances.  Trials tend to drive us to the “pity party” mentality.

But God shows us a different approach. God is so concerned with this area of our life that David wrote the words in Psalm 34:1 during a time of great distress and peril, “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth,” and in Psalm 35:28, “And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness and of thy praise all the day long.”  David found praise to be a powerful tool in dangerous times.

Trials tend to garner strong emotions that can lead us to very dangerous decision making processes.  The brain is wired to look for threats and rewards and when one of them is detected the brain releases chemicals into the body that trigger certain emotions in response to the threat or reward.  When a threat is encountered the brain releases adrenaline and cortisone into the body which stimulates the fight or flight emotions.  When reward is encountered the brain releases dopamine and serotonin into the body which stimulates the feel-good emotions.  In both situations the “feeling” part precedes the “thinking” part.  Depending on the situation the feelings tend to dominate which in turn delays rational thinking and resulting in irrational decision making and behavior.  Essentially, emotions hijack the brain.  This entire process happens subconsciously.  Many people operate in a world of negativity and fear.  This tends to place a person in a constant state emotional turmoil putting the body on a destructive chemical.  Therefore, emotions must be managed with conscious and purposeful thinking.  We must take control of our brain and the chemicals it is releasing.  God knows this and that is why praise is so important.  I am purposefully placing my energy into God’s blessings, provision, and power.  Praise takes my mind off the negativity of the world and puts it on the nearness of our Heavenly Father.

The Bible gives us so many illustrations of how this process works. In Acts chapter 16 Paul and Silas are beaten, stripped of their clothes, and thrown into the worst part of the prison for simply preaching the Gospel in Philippi.  Their situation was desperate.  What was their response?  Verse 25 declares, “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.”  They did not focus on the negative, on their lack of control of the situation, or the lack of fairness.  They simply started praising their Creator. What was the result?  An earthquake ensued, they we released and they led the jailer to Jesus Christ and salvation.  We must trust the power of praise in our darkest moments.

Someone might ask, what about Stephen?  What was the result of Stephen’s praise toward God?  The answer is death.  But the for the Christian, death on this earth is not the end—it is the beginning of eternity in the presence of Christ.  It is the beginning of paradise forever.  As Stephen was stoned for his preaching in Acts chapter 6 verses 55-60 describes his response,

“But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God… And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.”

Stephen’s focus on and praise of God walked him through his unjust execution with complete peace.  He perfectly reflects Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21, “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

Bottom line is that in a world consumed with selfies and self-gratification, praise to our Lord and Savior gets the focus off of us and our problems and back our Creator and Redeemer.