The brain is made up of two hemispheres, the right and the left. The two sides are connected by a bundle of fibres called the corpus callosum. Communication between the right and the left happens along these fibres, but sometimes, as in during anxiety, the messages don’t flow smoothly.
Each side of the brain has a different way of dealing with things, and we need both for different reasons. Both sides are involved in everything we do, but at different times one side might be more dominant. During anxiety, it is likely that the right brain has temporarily taken over. The feelings are overwhelming, and without the full involvement of the left brain, the feelings won’t necessarily make sense. The experience is likely to be one of, ‘I feel scared and overwhelmed, but I don’t understand why.’
The left brain loves logic and it uses language to describe experience in a concrete, logical way. It gives structure and order to our experiences, (‘this happened, then this happened …’). The left brain loves factual details. It might describe an anxious trip to school as ‘I got into the car and we drove out of the garage. It was raining. We drove down the road and turned left. My legs got wobbly, then my hands got sweaty and then we arrived at school. …’.
The right brain is more concerned with emotion and the bigger picture of what the experience means. While the left brain is more interested in ‘this is what happened’, the right brain is more interested in ‘this is what it means for me’. It draws on memories, feelings, and images, and is heavily directed by sensations in the body and the messages from the lower brain, which is the major player in anxiety.
We need both sides of the brain to work well together. If the right brain was in charge, without the steady, logical influence of the left side, we would be overwhelmed with physical sensations and emotions. Images and memories would flood us constantly and we would be emotional, chaotic and irrational. Coming at life from the left side also has its downside. If we were to be completely steered by logic without any input from our emotional experiences, we would be cold and emotionally disconnected from the world, ourselves and the people around us. Life would be logical, but it would also be without soul.
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