Is stress hurting your relationship?

How understanding your Reptilian Brain can help your relations?

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Brain! B R A I N! Yes Brain.

I love studying and understanding Brain.

More understanding gives me more knowledge about my brain. More knowledge = More power and hence more control. 😎

Our Brain is basically divided into 3 parts.

The Reptilian Brain or the Basal ganglia. It is the most primitive part of our brain and takes care of our involuntary functions such as: the beating of our hearts, our breathing, working of our organs, blinking, blood flow etc.

Then the centre part of the brain that comprises the limbic systems, which consist of the septum, amygdala, hypothalamus, hippocampal complex and cingulate cortex. This is also called the Monkey or Mammalian Brain — the brain of social hierarchies and emotions.

And then the Frontal Brain, finally our brain, the human brain, the cerebral cortex. It’s the most recent step in the evolution of the brain and takes care of language, abstraction, planning and perception. This is basically the secret sauce, differentiation and Human’s IP (Startup Slangs)!

So today, we will learn about Reptilian Brain (a part of brain that is assumed to be inherited from lizards clan — not true) and how it affects our daily communications with other human beings.

Reptilian Brain

It is the oldest of the three, and the structure mainly involves: the brainstem and the cerebellum(found in a reptile’s brain).

It is mainly responsible for our SURVIVAL!

Couple of centuries ago, it helped us find food and protect us from bullies. Today neither food is scarce nor we are threatened by Tigers and Cheetahs. But, our brain suffers from a severe evolutionary time-lag. Humans have evolved massively and change has happened too quickly for our minds to get used to.

The Reptilian brain still lives in Savannah, running from lions and chasing deer.

The reptilian brain is always angry, hungry, horny and scared.

Stress triggers our Reptilian Brain!

Humans are probably the only species on Earth that get stressed about something that might never happen.

As soon as our Reptilian Brain senses stress, it jumps into action to save us and only puts us in confusion, aggression or demoralization mode.

In 2004, a Harvard Crimson poll found that as many as 4 in 5 Harvard students suffer from depression atleast once during the school year, and nearly half of all students suffer from stress so debilitating they can’t function.

We are living in constant state of fear and stress.

Stress has become a World Wide epidemic — says the WHO

How Reptilian Brain used to respond to danger?

Imagine centuries ago; a lion was chasing you, what all options do you have?


Our reptilian brain pumps more blood to legs and gives it enough energy to run as fast as we can.


It pumps more blood to arms and fists and jaws to bite and tear the lion.


It slows down our heart rate and lowers the blood flow to help us act dead.

How does it respond to Relational Stress?

It is quite surprising to see how we often react precisely how we should not, when we face a stressed person, making matters worse.

How do we react when you see someone pacing around or can’t sit still. We often raise our voice and try to impose them to sit still or sit down. We often shout, “look at me when I am talking to you” to the kids when they are trying to look away. Looking at us won’t help the kid relieve his flee stress and calm down. It may help our fight stress but not his flee stress.

Similarly, when we encounter someone in fight stress, we fight back. The attack is the best defense, isn’t it? Well, not really. This will only worsen the condition. And two people in fight stress mode only escalate the conflict and this is so not good for reducing stress and solving the problem.

What we do most often when we encounter someone depressed(freeze stress). We try to put things in perspective, instill some courage and use some humor. ‘Come on, get up,’ ‘Don’t be a loser’ etc., are our standard statements. The person would want to be a loser at that very moment.

So what do we do? How do we cope up?

The first step should be identifying the stress as each type of stress has a different coping strategy and using the wrong one, might just not work!

Let’s see how to identify each type of stress and the do’s and don’t regarding each.

Flee Mode


  1. Eyes look away as in searching for an escape route.
  2. Hands and feet are moving, fiddling, fidgeting, tapping anything unless they are moving. Repetitive movements are prevalent.
  3. Heavy breathing and sweating. Sweaty Palms are very common.


  1. Don’t say calm down. This can be seen as a restriction to their freedom precisely opposite to what flee stress is looking for, and escape.
  2. Avoid constraints, reasoning and closed questions.
  3. Do not shout, threaten or sanction.

A closed question is mostly with an answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Answer to such question will be an evasive one like, ‘I don’t know’


Do the opposite of don’ts.

  1. Try open questions. Give them options, show them that they are free to choose.
  2. Redramatise — put things into perspective with the use of humor.
  3. Take them for a walk or cycling, let them move and hence letting some steam off.

Remember that flee stress is all about escaping and movement.

Fight Mode

This is probably the easiest to spot.


  1. People will stand tall
  2. Raise their voice
  3. Tension can be seen in neck and jaws
  4. Show impatience
  5. Precise Motions
  6. Staring eyes (not to lose the sight of the enemy)


  1. Don’t yell loudly; it won’t help it will just escalate the fight
  2. Avoid to interrupt, and question them
  3. Laughter and humor leads to volcanic eruption
  4. Don’t annoy the person
  5. Don’t respond slowly, in fight stress people show lack of patience and that leads to annoyance.


For fighting, you need two people, so don’t show any resistance eventually fighting will become futile and fade away.

  1. Listen without interruption
  2. Don’t find excuses, accept and take responsibility for your actions
  3. Offer solutions to the problems
  4. Get to the point fast and be factual

Fight stress is all about overpowering and winning. Let them win!

Freeze Mode

The first response to perceived danger is mostly stopping all the motions, dropping jaws or putting the hands in front of the mouth (this decreases inhaling the oxygen).

Here the objective is protection, shelter, caring, and sharing.


  1. Eyes will look down, gaze at nothing
  2. Shoulders and heads will be hanging
  3. Lower voice, speak slowly
  4. smaller sentences, lesser words
  5. Attitude is submissive, lack of desire and pleasure


  1. Don’t instill courage and will (get a grip! be courageous! etc.). This will only make them feel miserable.
  2. Don’t put things into perspective or try to explain.
  3. No wake-up calls.


If the person is looking for protection, just give them that.

  1. Mirror their position (if he is sitting, sit! if standing, stand), put yourself literally on their level
  2. The person might not wish to talk, respect that. A squirm hug or arm around the should do wonders.
  3. Offer shelter and protection
  4. Define small immediate objectives to shoo away the perceived danger.

Freeze stress is all about protection and shelter.


Stress has been wrecking all sort of relationships for years now.

Humans are complex beings and if you add emotions into it, it becomes a tricky scene. Stress is an integral part of our lives now and dealing with stress is never easy, but it’s part of life.

Therefore, it is very important to learn managing the Stress better and understanding Reptilian brain and practicing the techniques might just help you do that.

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