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Hormones, Emotions and Behavior

Emotions; a natural and widespread word that everyone assumes to know the meaning of, while there is no agreement over the term itself. These feelings and impulses are unique in intensity and quality to each individual. They are an essential factor to communication and survival as they allow us to vocalize our thoughts, spokes and intended actions to our surrounding. Therefore, before diving deep into our subject I would like to start off with a little summary of experienceable human emotions and that through Plutchik’s wheel of emotions:

The wheel has 8 primary emotions; sadness, surprise, disgust, fear, anticipation, anger, joy and trust all arranged as four pairs of opposites. Following down to the center, degrees of intensity increase, as connections between emotions are represented in the rings of circles.

As for which emotion is going to be dispatched, there are many factors that can influence the expression of the feeling: psychopathology, personality and also gender as men are more vulnerable to experiencing higher intensities of anger than females, while females, daily, can experience more emotions than a man can do.

But the question is how are these feelings triggered? What allows us to feel? And how are our emotions controlled?

We are all aware of the infinite and continuous connection our brains have with our bodies, sending off special electrical signals and chemicals (hormones) from one nerve to another. These hormones actually do greater than what can be expected from their size, these chemicals have the ability to control our moods, energy levels and even fat storage.

To explain the functioning of our bodies, how hormones are secreted, how emotions are triggered and how this reflects on our behavior, I’d like to focus on one very common feeling that is STRESS.

In our modern environment one can be exposed to really hard and stressful conditions that would be the source of the manifestation of the “stress” concept.

First of all, let us get to know what stress is? How does it feel to be stressed? And what’s happening inside our bodies that mediates that emotion?

Stress can be defined as an emotional response of your body to an external stimulator such as pressure, not having much control over the outcome of a situation, worrying, facing big alterations in life and the list goes on. And that would be the first stage of 3 of the “stress” process: The source of the emotion. The second stage starts when the body receives the signal and starts interpreting it, this the mediator stage as the body becomes an intermediary between the stimulus it caught and the response it will send back off. When you feel under a lot of pressure, the body produces stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that are released into the blood which then transports it all around the body. But how does the body know which hormone to release?

At the base of our brains, we have a tiny organ called the pituitary gland, it is the gland responsible for the secretion of many hormones such as the adrenocorticotropic hormone which controls the adrenal glands and triggers the production and release of the cortisol hormones into the bloodstream. After cortisol is released it causes a flood of glucose in the body that provides the large muscles with an instant energy source, this process is known as the fight or flight response (cortisol also triggers insulin production so that the glucose won’t be stored and will be available for usage). This flood of glucose and immediate energy source supply explains the high heart rate and heightened levels of breathing an individual usually recognizes as symptoms of anxiety or stress along with other behavioral symptoms like changes in appetite (either eating too much or too little) , weight gain or loss (as cortisol stimulates your carbohydrate metabolism and depending on the situation and person it either causes poor food choice or extra cravings) or also procrastinating and avoiding situations that require taking responsibilities…

Implicitly, just like cortisol and stress process, every other emotion and behavioral symptom requires a stimulus that triggers the excitement of the concerned area in our brains which controls the production and release of specific chemical substances that would by their turn interfere with other body systems and functions and result in different responses for different stimulus thus for various emotions. Therefore, instead of continuously trying to take specific supplements to shut down the release of certain hormones (like the usage of magnesium to inhibit the synthesis of cortisol in the adrenal glands) maybe understanding our bodies and emotions could be a better opportunity to learn how to manage it and overcome the perplex situations.

Writer: Fatima Ezzahra Rekkass

Editor: Cengizhan Öztürk

References

Susman, E. J., Inoff-Germain, G., Nottelmann, E. D., Loriaux, D. L., Cutler, Jr., G. B., & Chrousos, G. P. (1987). Hormones, Emotional Dispositions, and Aggressive Attributes in Young Adolescents. Child Development, 58(4), 1114-1134

Scarantino, A. (2012). How to Define Emotions Scientifically. Emotion Review, 358-368.

Plutchik, R. (2001). The Nature of Emotions. American Scientist, 89, 344-350.

Margaret E. Kemeny, Health Psychology Program, Department of Psychiatry, Laurel Heights Campus, University of California, 3333 California St., Suite 465, San Francisco, CA 94143.

Nicholson, E. L., Bryant, R. A., & Felmingham, K. L. (2014). Interaction of noradrenaline and cortisol predicts negative intrusive memories in posttraumatic stress disorder. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 112, 204-211.

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