photo of trees 

Resilience Through The Power of Presence, Part 1

With the constant stress and pressure around us, it is easy to get stuck in survival mode. The good news is you can come out of it. This upcoming blog series will show you how to bring yourself back to the present and not be overwhelmed by stress.

The Primitive Brain Hijack

We have 3 brain systems that function as a whole unit when you are in balance.

  • Rational brain (neocortex): Responsible for complex thinking skills such as problem solving and social functioning
  • Limbic system (midbrain): Emotional brain that processes memories and feelings
  • Primitive brain: The reptilian brain responsible for survival and switches on your fight-flight-freeze mode

Your daily activities involve constant communication between the 3 brain centers, with the primitive brain mostly in “sleep” mode. When your brain picks up a moment of “danger” (eg. a car zooms right in front of you as you step off the curb), your primitive brain wakes up and quickly responds (fight, flight, or freeze).

When the primitive brain is active, the rational brain slows or completely shuts down (“sleep” mode) because you are in a “life or death” situation.

Your primitive brain is either on or off, there is no middle ground. It does not think, “Oh, it is just a little danger”. The response is the same whether you sleep past your alarm, cope through a pandemic or sprint away from a saber tooth tiger.

Primitive Brain Changes

Some of the physiological responses when your primitive brain is activated into fight, flight or freeze mode include:

  • Faster heart beat
  • Faster breathing
  • Pupils dilate allowing you to see more
  • Ears “perk up” and hearing sharpens
  • Digestion slows because digestion is not a priority anymore
  • Skin circulation decreases so you look pale and feel cold
  • Sleep mode is turned off because you can not sleep while trying to save your life
  • Rational brain communication slows or completely shuts off because you do not need to plan for the next day as you may only have 10 minutes to live

If you have ever slept through your alarm or been late for your meeting, you may have felt as if you have been in this “zone” the entire morning until you had a chance to sit for a break and bring yourself back. This is how it feels when your primitive brain takes over.

path through the forest


The good news is you can redirect your primitive brain, if you use the right communication method. Each part of your brain has specialized functions and speaks its own language:

  • Words: Your rational brain uses words
  • Feelings: Your emotional brain speaks through feelings
  • Sensations: Your primitive brain uses the language of sensations

The language of sensations is foreign to many of us. The reality is there is a world of sensation inside us and it is the road to recovery from our primitive brain hijack from overwhelm and stress.

All you need is time, attention and intent. With quiet, focused time, this specialized language of sensation can be mastered. In the next blog post will be the first exercise to show you how.

For more information on this topic, read, Waking The Tiger by Peter Levine