Who is in Control?
Our brain is such a complex and mysterious organ that might seem to be unreachable and ambiguous. We think that it is the one that controls us, but the surprising news is that we do.
I did not know that directing the brain is attainable until I experienced it myself during labour with the twins. My water broke at 33 weeks, and I had to go through the delivery on my own. The contractions suddenly became intense and immediate. The doctors panicked and I could see them running and shouting orders for me to be directly transferred to the OR for a C-section. To make things worse, it was my first experience with a C-section, in a hospital that I have never been to before. The anaesthetist told me that if I wanted to have a local aesthesia, I had to stop myself from shaking. I was not aware that every muscle in my body was quivering. I knew that if I do not stop these trembling movements, he will put me to sleep. And that was my main fear.
I did not want to drift away into a dark world I did not know, and I wanted to be with my twins the minute they were born, and I could not help it. At that instant I knew that it is all in my head, and I was surprised by my own voice that suddenly became clear and calm when I told the doctor, “I can do it. Just do whatever you need to do and have my babies arrive safely.”
In fact, I have decided not to panic. I set my goal that I need to control my emotions and be strong for my twins and for myself. Within few minutes, the doctor was able to insert the needle in my spine, and a couple of seconds later I heard the first cry of my first twin…
But how can this be true scientifically? What has happened to my brain when I took the decision not to panic?
In the brain there are multiple structures where each has its own function. Two of those are the Limbic System and the Prefrontal Cortex.
The Limbic System, also known as The Animal Brain, supports a variety of functions including adrenaline flow, emotion, and behaviour. For example, when a person has a panic attack, it is this part of the brain that is working on full speed.
In fact, it will be the one sending signals to have the person react to the panic experienced. Many people think that it is a positive thing to have such reactions. Others wonder how we can control our fears and if it is possible to work on our brains and have these calm and controlled attitudes become our nature. As moms, having this option would be great, especially when we want our children not to panic, or to be frustrated, or even to feel helpess.
Could we actually change our brain to function in a free style controlled manner? Can we really manage our Limbic system and eventually our fears?
Indeed we can, and here comes the other brain structure, the Prefrontal cortex, into play…
The outer frontal part of the brain is the Prefrontal cortex that helps us guide our thoughts and fears. In fact, as Goldman Rakic put it back in October 1996:
“The prefrontal cortex is responsible for planning, action, thoughts and also for the inhibition of inappropriate thoughts, emotions, actions and feelings.“
In other words, the Prefrontal cortex controls our “animal brain”.
The Prefrontal Cortex:
This means that once you take the decision of not wanting to panic, or to holler, or when you even want to overcome any other weakness that you have, this part of the brain, the Prefrontal cortex, starts to send messages to the Limbic System to have it under control. Once you set your mind on a goal, the brain accelerates this process to accomplish a meticulous mental state.
Scientists believe that goal-setting works by assisting the Frontal Lobes. As the brain’s supervisor, the Frontal Lobes are responsible for reasoning and planning. The minute you concentrate on a specific goal, the Prefrontal cortex keeps the Limbic System in check.
Last but not least, the brain is also characterized by Neuroplasticity or Brain Plasticity, which states that the brain is in continuous change. Unlike the old belief that it is a physiologically static organ, it is always ready to form new connections. In other words, our brain can change to form better connections between the Prefrontal cortex and the Limbic system and eventually enhances our self-control.
And guess how you can from such connections?
By simply “deciding to” control the BRAIN!!
The point is that we are blessed with a miraculous organ which is the brain. In it we can decide whether we want to be weak, helpless, feeble, or vulnerable. On the other hand, we can train it to help us in being resilient, powerful, and effective decision makers.
Luckily, science is there to aid us in comprehending and realizing the secrets that lie within each human. After many trials, these self-control issues help us in dealing with our weaknesses and faults. Once we understand them and overcome them, we can easily transmit these methods to our children who will be able to soar up freely in the future.
'…I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul'
“Invictus” written by the English poet William Ernest Henley
N.B.: The medical information was provided by Dr. W. Radwan – Neurologist at AUB-MC