The Physiology of Emotions

Doctor Motley - Physiology of EmotionsThe Physiology of Emotions

YES, emotions have physical parts!

When emotional stress enters the body, it takes a certain pathway in the brain. It is called the limbic system, which controls the amount of stress that enters the brain and body. The limbic system is composed of certain nerve centers in the brain responsible for regulating your bodies emotional response. I put a list of the components at the end of the post if you want to get nerdy. 😆

For now I want to focus on the basics, the process of stress-emotions-chemical reaction-physical changes. When stress enters the brain it travels through the stress centers, namely the hypothalamus, and down towards the pineal and pituitary glands.

Think of the hypothalamus as a thermostat which monitors and regulates the amount of stress your body receives. It is there so you do not get overwhelmed with stress of everyday life, it can be “turned up or down” depending on the stress.

The hypothalamus does many things-regulates your bodies temperature, sleep, mood, thirst hunger, sex drive and release of hormones. You can see it is responsible for our basic needs for survival. Let’s recall that electrical signals of emotional stress eventually turn into biochemical reactions through this pathway.

As stress signals enter your brain, the stress center hypothalamus responds by taking the electrical stress signal and passes it over to the pituitary gland to release certain hormones. It tells the pituitary to “turn up or turn down” hormone production in response to the stress. The pituitary is a primary hormonal gland which can release over a dozen different types of hormones.

Here is where your energy production and physiology meet. One of those primary hormones is a thyroid stimulating hormone(TSH) which signals the thyroid to produce T3 and T4 hormones to start creating energy in all tissues of the body in response to the stress. It also produces hormones that signal release of other hormones from the adrenals and reproductive glands for energy production, such as adrenaline, testosterone, etc.

The thyroid is the spark plug which creates energy, and it also signals to the adrenals to sustain that energy output by producing adrenaline for support. The adrenals then can be over stressed as well when this happens, and may need additional support from the reproductive glands for energy. This is how emotions can trickle down and affect the energy output of the whole body. (The trifecta aka triple heater: Thyroid-adrenals-reproductive glands.)

Here are parts of the limbic system aka the emotional centers:
  • Amygdala - controls emotions, especially fear
  • Hippocampus - long term memory
  • Thalamus - sensory input of motion, consciousness, sleep, being alert
  • Basal ganglia - movement and emotions
  • Cingulate gyrus - regulation of emotions and behavior response
  • Hypothalamus - connects emotions to your hormonal response in the body, specifically the pituitary

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