This little video explains why it’s SO HARD to calm down once we’re set off. Make the motions with your own hand to get a sense of how an amygdala overcome by fear, danger, or any overwhelming emotion can blow up, making us seem to “flip our lid” and act in ways we normally wouldn’t.
Growing self-awareness can help us learn to notice when we’re getting flooded and are about to “flip our lid.” With practice paying attention to cues, we can be aware of when people we care about, like partners, children, or students, are moving towards a blow up. With practice, we can have both 1. awareness of when it’s about to happen, and 2. skills we can use to de-escalate ourselves and others.
Many times, just taking a break can help give our brain a chance to self-soothe and regulate. It might be as simple as saying something like, “I know this conversation is really important, but I’m very overwhelmed right now. I need to take 10 minutes to splash some water on my face/run around the block/meditate in the backyard/etc to calm down, can we continue this conversation in __ minutes?”
If you’re a Patron, you might have caught a glimpse of this cute little hand in Friday’s process video. For literally years (ever since taking my first interpersonal neurobiology class in graduate school) I’ve wanted to create my own adaptation of Dan Siegel’s hand model of the brain. You’ve probably seen it around the internet in visual forms – it’s an incredibly useful way to explain a really critical bit of brain science in a down-to-earth way.
Somehow, though, this explanation always gets paired with very clinical or technical hand drawings, which have a strange dissonance, for me, with the easy-to-understand model for understanding brain anatomy. In my visuals, I swapped out a technical drawing of a hand with a doodled hand.
Would you like a copy of my Hand Model art for your office, classroom, or home? Preprinted posters are available via Society6. You can print your own posters or handouts using the digital download PDFs available below. The PDF’s contain: a printable version of my hand model in 2 different layouts. The final 2 pages are identical, but with a plain white background as a printer ink-saving option.
Download a Printable PDF of this Resource:
NOTE: The Hand Model of the Brain was developed by Dr. Dan Siegel. I don’t claim to own or resell the theory as my creation, and payment is accepted as compensation for my art only. The idea was originally published in his book Mindsight (a significant text on brains, attachment, and emotional regulation that’s well worth the read for this content and more).
TEXT DESCRIPTION OF ART:
[handdrawn cartoon-style image of an open hand, palm facing the viewer] text to the left:
Think of your wrist like the brain stem, it’s responsible for basic things like breathing and keeping your heart pumping.
[handdrawn cartoon-style image of an open palm with thumb tucked in] Text to the left:
Your thumb, tucked in, sits in the middle, just like the amygdala is in the center of a brain. The amygdala is responsible for sensing danger & telling the rest of our brain + body.
[handdrawn cartoon-style image of a fist, palm and front of knuckles facing the viewer] Text to the left:
Your fingers are like your pre-frontal cortex – that’s the part of the brain that helps us manage emotions and make complex decisions.
[handdrawn cartoon-style image of an open palm with thumb, colored bright yellow with lightning bolts, tucked in] Text to the left:
When our amygdala sounds the alarm, our pre-frontal cortex can’t do it’s job and we “flip our lid.” That’s why it can be so hard to make thoughtful decisions when we are upset. In these moments, our brains need to take a break to reflect and reconnect.