Season 2 Episode 1: The Science of Emotions DONE DONE DONE
Welcome back to the integrated leader podcast.
We're on a mission to help you transform into a more effective, empathetic and impactful leader, both professionally and personally.
. I'm your host, Lauren Marie and executive coach passionate and helping you unlock your potential. Today's episode is a fascinating one.
We're diving deep into the intricate ocean of human emotion, but not just from the perspective of how we feel or what we express. We're going to explore the raw biology and physiology of emotions and how they rise from neurons and hormones to becoming tears and smiles and laughter. Moreover, well frame this journey through the lens of emotional intelligence.
We'll also have a conversation with Caleb Mitchell. A therapist and friend. Who will share his insights on the matter. He, and I discuss how the complex process within our brain and body shape our Workday emotions. And importantly, how can we gain a greater understanding and control of these processes to improve our work lives? So sit tight. This is going to be a trip to the very core of what makes us human.
Let's start from the ground up. What are emotions really?
Emotions are our body's responses to significant events. They can be triggered by external stimuli, like a growling dog or a heartfelt compliment, or internally by thoughts and memories. Deep inside our brain emotions are triggered and an area known as the limbic system. Which includes structures like the amygdala, the hippocampus and the hypothalamus.
Our limbic system is like the grand conductor of our emotional orchestra, working nonstop to integrate emotion, behavior, and cognition. When a threat or reward is perceived, the amygdala takes charge, triggering a cascade of physiological responses.
Our heart rate increases. Breathing gets quicker. Adrenaline floods the system, and we're suddenly intensely viscerally aware of what we're feeling. Fear joy. Surprise anger. All these emotions are rooted in our primal survival instincts. They prepare us to fight, to flee or to embrace the situation at hand.
But it's not just the surge of emotions. It's how we understand, manage and respond to these emotions that constitute the concept of emotional intelligence. . Daniel Goldman, a key figure in this field described emotional intelligence is having five key elements. Self-awareness self-regulation. Motivation. Empathy and social skills.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in ourselves and others, and our ability to use this awareness to manage our behaviors and relationships.
That annoying. Co-worker the demanding boss, a loved one's mood swings. Emotional intelligence allows us to navigate these complex dynamics successfully. It helps us to perceive, comprehend and respond to our own and others' emotions effectively. So really why does this matter? The impact of emotional intelligence on our daily lives is profound for improving our relationships to enhancing our professional performance. Emotional intelligence helps us navigate our lives more effectively. It reduces the gap between feeling and understanding.
Impulse. And action.
Our understanding of emotions, wouldn't be complete without looking into how we can consciously influence this inner, emotional landscape. It's not just about how our brain and body create emotions. It's also about how our conscious decisions and practices can shape these processes.
Let's look into it a little deeper. First starters neuro-plasticity is a critical concept to understand. Our brain is malleable. It changes based on our experiences, thoughts and behaviors. The use it or lose it. Principle applies to neural pathways to the more we practice specific emotional responses or thought patterns, the stronger these pathways become.
This is where emotional regulation techniques come into play.
Techniques such as mindfulness meditation have been scientifically proven to regulate emotional responses. A study from the university of Wisconsin. Madison found that mindfulness meditation reduces the activation of the amygdala and response to emotional stimuli, effectively helping to control emotional reactions.
But really how does this work? When you meditate. Your engaging your prefrontal cortex, the brain's center for decision-making and social behavior. You're strengthening its capacity to influence the amygdala. The part of your brain responsible for generating emotions. As this connection gets stronger, you gain better control over your emotional responses.
So when your a McDilla flags and incoming email as a threat. Your prefrontal cortex steps in to add context and proportion to the situation.
Another pathway to emotional regulation is through the body.
The polyvagal theory by Dr. Stephen Porges
explains how our Vegas nerve, which connects the brain with the body plays a crucial role in emotional regulation. . Certain physical practices can stimulate the vagus nerve and promote feelings of calm. And relaxation. For instance, deep belly breathing, singing, and even laughing can activate the vagus nerve, shifting our body from a state of stress.
To one of relaxation. Regular practices of these activities can help us handle our emotional reactions more effectively. Anchoring our body in a state of calm. Even when we're facing stressors.
And now I'd like to introduce the conversation that I've had with therapists, Kaleb Mitchell.
A friend and colleague. Where we discuss how the complex processes within our body and brain shape our Workday emotions. And importantly, how can we gain a greater understanding and control of these processes?
To improve our work lives. Listen in.
[00:06:50] Lauren Marie: Thanks for joining us at the Integrated Leader.
[00:06:53] Lauren Marie: We're happy to have you.
Caleb a therapist for over 20 years. And co-owner of a local group counseling practice called the Phoenix counseling collective. He's also the co-owner of the wellness collaborative, which seeks to provide community and flexibility to mental health and wellness practitioners. By providing office space memberships.
Kayla we're glad to have you
[00:07:14] Caleb: thanks for inviting me.
[00:07:16] Lauren Marie: As we continue the conversation I wanted Caleb not only because he is an expert in emotions as a therapist but he's also hosted.
[00:07:28] Lauren Marie: Workshops and group sessions all around practicing emotional intelligence.
[00:07:33] Lauren Marie: . So I wanted to bring him into the discussion to help us. Integrate emotional intelligence into our own lives.
[00:07:40] Lauren Marie: . Here we have a question for you, Caleb.
[00:07:42] Lauren Marie: What are some common emotional triggers that leaders may face and how can they identify and address these triggers to prevent emotional hijacking?
[00:07:52] Caleb: That's a great question. So I think I come to this conversation not just as a therapist, but. As someone who is a leader and who has made my own mistakes as well.
[00:08:03] Caleb: The things that we talk about today, it's not because I have expertise where I do perfectly all the time. But I think one of the main triggers that we don't realize is always present the way that our brain is constructed and built. Is that it is primarily trying to figure out where are the places of threat.
[00:08:25] Caleb: So if you go back to , prehistoric man. He wakes up in the morning and his first thing he's looking for is, am I safe? Are there any predators around? And that is how our brain has been wired for millions of years.
[00:08:39] Caleb: the primary emotion that we often experience is fear. And I think that just allowing ourself to realize that we're humans and that we're going to have these inclinations towards being afraid and trying to figure out where we're gonna be safe where we're not gonna be safe.
[00:08:56] Caleb: Is just helpful to be aware of whenever A leader steps into any situation,
[00:09:04] Lauren Marie: So would you say fear is the base emotion?
[00:09:07] Caleb: I would say it is one of the base emotions and it's not one that we really like to have.
[00:09:12] Caleb: One of the things that we hate telling anyone is I'm scared. Yeah. That is not something that we want to tell people, but it is this base experience that we often have. And so I think that if leaders aren't aware that when I step into a me meeting, I might be afraid. Then they're going to be unaware as they step into a meeting.
[00:09:36] Caleb: So
[00:09:37] Lauren Marie: before they go into a meeting, say, what am I
[00:09:39] Caleb: afraid of? I think that could be a really helpful question. Or what is the outcome that I'm trying to keep from happening? Or even just thinking through, huh, what am I gonna, what am I trying to protect? . So
[00:09:53] Lauren Marie: it, it seems like in the science and understanding what's physiologically happening inside of our bodies there's this thing that happens where we're emotionally hijacked It feels like emotional triggering or hijacking is a reflex my body has sometimes and it's hard to understand
[00:10:11] Lauren Marie: . Yes. What's happening. Can you pull on the threads on that for us?
[00:10:14] Caleb: Yeah, for sure.
[00:10:15] Caleb: What I don't think most of us realize as humans is that we are primarily emotional beings. We like to think that we're super logical that we do everything because we've thought through it and we know what's gonna happen. Because we have taken all the information we've. Sorted it all out and now we know what to do.
[00:10:35] Caleb: But the reality is that we react emotionally first and then we think, and a lot of times we're not aware that we've had an emotional reaction right off the bat. And so the emotional hijacking comes because we'll have an reaction, but there's no awareness about what the emotion we just had.
[00:10:56] Caleb: Okay. And so we just go with it and then it builds and builds. And so one of the things that we're trying to talk about in this is how do we have an emotional reaction, which we're always gonna have, and how do we create more space between the emotional reaction we have internally and then the outward action otherwise, we're just gonna keep doing the same emotional actions that we've been doing. Over and over again because that's what's kept us safe.
[00:11:23] Caleb: And here's the really crazy part, is that we often think of the prefrontal cortex being our executive functioning. And it does help us make choices, but it also has this other unrecognized.
[00:11:36] Caleb: Job. And that job is as the historian. And so oftentimes we will have an emotional reaction to something and then our historian prefrontal cortex will tell us why we did it.
[00:11:48] Caleb: So one way to also say it is that there's a stimulus. So there's this situation that happens. We have an emotional reaction. And then we have a response, like a, like physiological response or verbal response or we try and take care of the situation. And so what we're trying to realize is that because we're emotional beings, we're always gonna have that emotional response all the time.
[00:12:16] Caleb: And it's probably gonna be similar to what it was before. The other day I was sitting at the coffee shop and I was writing and somebody outside read their engine really loud, and I jumped. Yes. So that was involuntary. I didn't go, oh, now I'm got scared and now I'm gonna jump.
[00:12:36] Caleb: . And so I had that emotional response. Now I could have turned around. Threw the window and said, Hey, shut your car off, dude. Calm down. And let's say that in the past, I've always had that reaction. I always got hot right off the bat.
[00:12:52] Caleb: If I'm not aware that I just got scared and I'm not able to even name it to myself, I'm just gonna keep dealing with it the same way. But if I can name, oh, I just got scared and now I get some decision to how I'm gonna respond, which maybe I just turn around and just, which is what I did.
[00:13:08] Caleb: I just went back and I was like, oh, that's funny. I got scared and I went back to what I was doing. If we're not able to create more space between the emotional response that we have and then the action that we take after that, then we're just going to be living blindly. And that's why we're trying to be more aware leaders so we're not just responding without thought and just on autopilot.
[00:13:34] Caleb: Would you
[00:13:34] Lauren Marie: say that by naming the emotion, it provides more options in the way that you want to respond to it, but without naming it, you lose the option for options?
[00:13:45] Caleb: Yes. Is there a better way to ask that? No, that's a great way of asking that. Part of having more options is,
[00:13:55] Caleb: It gives you the choice . Instead of having this automatic response, you get to slow down the process and go, oh, I'm experiencing something now.
[00:14:04] Caleb: How can I do something different? And so it actually gives some space for choice. Without it, you are just going to automatically react as you always have to protect yourself like you always have because it's worked. Yeah. So
[00:14:18] Lauren Marie: naming it.
[00:14:19] Lauren Marie: Slows down the process. Which allows you agency Yes.
[00:14:22] Lauren Marie: And choice.
[00:14:23] Caleb: . I think for leaders, and I think actually for all of us as humans is to realize that all human interactions we have with each other are possible threat situations. So if you ever been on a trip where you go, you fly from one city to the other and it's a three hour flight, you go through the airport.
[00:14:46] Caleb: You get on the plane, you fly there, you get off the plane and you feel tired. You're like, all I did today was sit in the airport and then sit on a plane and then I got my bags and I walked out and why am I so tired? Yes. Part of the reason is because you been trying to figure out if every single one of them is a threat.
[00:15:07] Caleb: That's, this is what your brain does. And that is exhausting. And that's part of why you're so tired when you fly,
[00:15:14] Caleb: and that sounds a little bit over the top, but. That is what your brain is trying to do. And so if leaders can be aware that every human interaction that they have with subordinates, with their bosses is a threat situation or could be, then it helps them be more mindful of, oh, I might have a fear reaction.
[00:15:35] Caleb: . If they can have that awareness, then they know that they're going to have an emotional reaction and then they get to decide what to do with it. And without being aware that, huh, I get scared, or as a human I'm going to have this threat response,
[00:15:52] Caleb: so the autonomic nervous system is going to kick in. Whether I want it to or not. And without being aware that's going to happen. They're just gonna get side swiped by it and they're gonna go into a situation and afterwards leave and go, man, I did not like how I responded to them, and I think I actually might have made that situation worse that happens because they're not going into it aware that, hey this could be a high pressure situation for my autonomic nervous system or that it could be a threat situation.
[00:16:22] Caleb: So if
[00:16:23] Lauren Marie: you know you're going into a situation that is high stakes or you feel like this could be a high pressure situation, are there things that you can do?
[00:16:32] Caleb: Yeah, I think there are a lot of things you can do.
[00:16:34] Caleb: If we can help our bodies be calm and at rest. And therefore you're using our parasympathetic nervous system, which allows our prefrontal cortex and our emotions to be connected. And therefore we're talking and speaking from a more centered place then we're gonna be better off.
[00:16:53] Caleb: And everyone thinks that meditation and maybe mindfulness is a fad, but I think what we're realizing is that we do have to regulate our bodies. Meditation, being more aware of yourself. I think that's this isn't just my plug for therapy, but I do think that having a space where you're exploring your own internal world and understanding it you can't take someone through your house and tell them about all the different things that are there if you've , haven't walked those rooms yourself and you don't know where stuff is.
[00:17:25] Caleb: So I think that Doing those two things can be helpful just on a like real practical level. But I do think that being mindful of it, even going in versus just blindly going into it is super important.
[00:17:40] Lauren Marie: Yeah. Thanks for sharing that , I don't know if I've ever explained why I named it the Integrated Leader podcast, but that's why, because I want to help leaders develop the connection between executive function and their emotions, knowing that they are completely connected.
[00:17:54] Caleb: Totally. Anne, I think what's interesting when I work with leaders, it's so fascinating to see them do the work around how they lead, but it. Always has spill over into their personal life. And I see them finding more calm, more effectiveness, more engagement and more life even in their personal lives when they start going through this process of going okay.
[00:18:23] Caleb: What are my reactions? Where are they coming from? How can I actually make choices in different directions than what I have been doing? Gosh. It just it's so fascinating to see how that permeates just all of their life.
[00:18:38] Lauren Marie: Caleb, thank you for talking about the science of Emotions. The next episode. We're gonna be discussing self-awareness and how to cultivate more awareness, and I look forward to that discussion. Thanks. See you next time
Stay tuned for upcoming episodes where we'll share practical tips, strategies, and insights to help you become a more integrated leader. Thank you for joining me today on this journey. And I look forward to continued exploration of emotional intelligence in the coming episodes.
. Remember. Business is personal. So let's be good at it.