Why your brain is screaming for peace

As I was driving down 23rd avenue on a Tuesday morning, yelling at the car in front of me for driving just under the speed limit, I realized that I’m not just a person who struggles with anger, I usually have an angst-charged thought traipsing around somewhere in my brain.

I finally admitted to my almost fifty year old self that there are few moments during the day when I’m at peace. I think about someone who’s wronged me. I think about how to gain the upper hand in a confrontation, sometimes rehearsing what I’ll say in the moment of truth. I think about how things aren’t going my way or the mountain of tasks that life before me, the outcomes of which, most of the time, lie outside of my control. It’s no wonder that the only thing that sounds good at the end of the day is a drink and a couple hours of TV.

I spend the majority of my day pounding my brain with thoughts, ideas, fantasies, make-believe scenarios, and stress. Lots of stress.

And so my mind has been living in a war zone for years. It knows that when I wake up in the morning the sirens will wail and the bullets will fly – bad attitudes, screaming kids, coffee, to do list, etc.

So it’s wired itself for survival. The more crap I throw at it, the more it adjusts itself. The more non-peaceful things I feed my brain, the more non-peaceful my brain thinks it’s world is, the more non-peaceful it becomes.

I know others who choose not to live this way. Β Their minds have an entirely different experience, and have wired themselves accordingly. Their minds are at peace. They might run into the occasional hardship, but “hard” is not how they see their world. Their minds don’t start the day at DEFCON 1 like mine does.

TheΒ Science of a Stressed Out Brain

If you could dumb down our understanding of the brain a bit, you might divide it into two sections. One section, the “fight or flight” (FoF) part of the brain, and the other, the “rational” part. If a brain finds itself under constant duress, with FoF constantly firing, that part of the brain becomes the strongest and will begin calling the shots, seeing every. single. thing. as a threat.

If, on the other hand, the brain experiences significant moments of peace, FoF gets a chance to rest while the rational part is allowed to take over, which is what it’s supposed to be doing anyway. It’s impossible to be at peace when FoF is locked and loaded, and the rational part, asleep.

People who have experienced some form of consistent abuse, folks with PTSD, and/or those who live in constant fear of the future, what others think of them, etc., tend to view their world as an inherently unsafe place – that’s the world that their brains have wired themselves for. These people will have an extremely difficult time soaking in the life, beauty, and relationships that surround them. They’ll have a hard time getting along with others. They can’t sleep. The part of their mind that’s built for a good life has been told to stand down while the part that’s built for war has hunkered the entire being deep in the trenches – completely on the defensive.

We can tell these people to “get over it,” or “think differently,” or “go to church,” but as long as their minds are on red alert, nothing will change. What they’re in dire need of is peace. Tons of it.

I’m surprised how easy it’s been to stop bombarding my brain with war, to be the gatekeeper for the kinds of thoughts I let through the “door.” The peaceful/good/hopeful/pretty things of my life are just as much of a reality as the hard stuff, so why not spend more time ruminating on the things that will ultimately cause my brain to think it’s living in a different place – not a war zone, but a place of peace?

When I meet someone who can’t relax, who’s usually angry, who has a hard time getting along with others, or who doesn’t seem to care about anything, I’m no longer asking questions about their character, or going through my usual list of things I think they should be doing to become the person I think they should be. Instead, I find myself moving towards compassion, asking what’s going on in their mind – what’s so taken over their reason and rationality that they can’t live the kind of life I know they’d rather be living?

Peace is our job, not only in our lives, but in the lives of others. Ironically, the more I invite peaceful thoughts into my own life, the easier it is to bring peace into the lives of others, and vice versa.

57 thoughts on “Why your brain is screaming for peace”

  1. A book that helped me feel more at peace with myself was Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh. I find that listening to his voice on a CD or video is extremely calming, too.

    I still have times when I’m not so calm, it wasn’t a miracle cure, but it remains very helpful.

  2. This opens my eyes… You see, this use to be me, but more importantly I have always felt a rejection from those around me. When I am in their presence I feed my brain negativity concerning their feelings toward me. Once, I would plan my attack of revenge just because they didn’t like me. Now, reading this -I understand.

    Maybe, they feel the same way.

    How can I not have compassion for someone who suffers as I have suffered. Let’s all turn and look at the person we once sought revenge upon -and see the pain in their eyes.

  3. Calls to mind one of my favorite lines from scripture:
    “Make my joy complete by being of a single mind, one in love, one in heart and one in mind. Nothing is to be done out of jealousy or vanity; instead, out of humility of mind everyone should give preference to others, everyone pursuing not selfish interests but those of others.” –Philippians 2:3-8, Jerusalem Bible

  4. This is a truly wonderful read. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been grappling with this issue and fighting for sufficient peace-time to keep things from boiling over. It really confirms that my time-outs are necessary.

  5. Hey man, thanks for the follow. I’ve just read this piece, and it’s interesting (and useful) to read about your progression from an anger-swamped mind to a more relaxed, and, in a sense, rational one. I’ll definitely be reading more of your stuff and following you back.


  6. I read this and wonder if we’re related, perhaps you grew up in the same house and I just missed you–while taking care of 5 younger sibs, or when I got a rare breather, hiding out in a book… Indeed, abuse and it’s inherent PTSD make “life” a scary place to be living, and though I spend more time than the average woman soaking up TV/Internet church, my brain does what you describe–those niggling-nagging negative thoughts and bits of looping conversation I’ll probably never have opportunity (thanks, Lord) to speak… Peace to you, brother–yes, Peace indeed πŸ™‚

    1. Hi, great to hear from you again. Yeah, sounds like we’ve had similar lives. It’s unfortunate that most people had to deal with alot growing up/still carrying “baggage” today…

      1. I do love your posts because you’re frank, genuine and authentic–about imperfect life, and imperfect humans who dare to be Christ Followers. God bless us, every one πŸ™‚

  7. Oh! I really love this post. I’m Grace
    Thanks a lot for following us. Could you please shoot me your email or Facebook contact? I’d love to get in touch with you. . .as I believe that bloggers could be more than just that but even great friends.
    Hope to hear from you. . .Again, really great post!! πŸ™‚

  8. Identifying with Value is at the root of this indoctrination in the being. If the indoctrination, early years, primarily was one consisting of injecting into the Psyche a sense of lack, invalidation, worthlessness “If”, If the individual did not stand up with intensity, representing specific ideals (manliness, manhood etc.). So a sense of desperation is bred in the person. A female can be a victim to this without the tags of Macho. Using of course fear of invalidation. Dog Eat Dog intensity (or is it rat?). This indoctrination can be one taught conversely, by opposite unendurable circumstances. I can’t do justice to this school of thought in a reply. If any one is interested, I’ve written strongly on this in my archives. Thank you for this encouraging, exhortative post.

  9. I can certainly identify with what you wrote. Every single word! It’s heartwarming to know that at the end it is us who can decide how our brains are wired. We all have a choice. I wishe everybody was aware of that.

  10. You have nicely pointed out just how complicated our ‘experience’ makes it to live our lives – each epoch spikes the adrenaline dump of our autonomic flight/fight response. You bring to life the need to deconstruct our experience and put the breaks on or we are headed for an even greater mine field – cardiac worries and other stress-related crap that no one needs. It is now or never. Thanks for the post and your peek.

  11. I love this piece. It speaks volumes for most people there days. I was stuck in this life for years until my mom died a few months ago then my world changed and and I stopped taking the little things for granted again. I feel like me again. I’m still a work in progress though! Thank you for writing this!

  12. I’m rarely angry. I’m just about ALWAYS worried about something. (Not always the same thing, just SOMETHING.) It is ALMOST always something about either money or my kids. This whole idea of “trust Jesus and know peace” is a bit tough for me to accomplish. So tough that I think it’s a crock, a lot of the time, and many people want to tell me I’m not very much of a Christian because worry is a sin. I guess their sins are less evil than mine πŸ™‚

    1. You gotta love people who love reminding us of our sins… I have a hard time with the “trust Jesus” thing too, basically because a) He can do anything he wants with/to me and b) I know enough about Him to know He doesn’t want what I want. Trust, these days at least, is a day-by-day sort of thing. My life hasn’t really sucked so bad so far, so I’m pretty sure it won’t suck horribly tomorrow πŸ™‚

  13. You’ve really got the knack and gift to give expression to what many moderns think and feel in their crazy busy every day lives. Relevant with real direction, breath of fresh air! I’ve just started to follow you and genuinely look forward to your posts. Thanks for following me too – greetings from South Africans in Scotland.

  14. Well aren’t you speaking my language? Thank you for the follow. I enjoyed this post and the one about “hating” your kids. I’ll enjoy the positive spin. I sure need more of that in my life! I’ll look forward to reading more.

  15. Thanks for signing up to follow my blog. Regarding this post: are you familiar with Mark Twain’s quote on anger? “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

  16. Hope you are well:) I wanted to stop by and let you know that I recently moved to a self-hosted site and the following is the latest post:

  17. Right on!

    What am I feeding my mind? Peace is always there, but I find I need to make a concerted effort throughout the day to refocus and give my body/mind a sense of peace and safety when it goes off track.

    Great post. Thank you.

  18. There are different types of people and now more than ever, types of people impossible to deal with on a daily basis, against our nature. Stupid, careless, reckless, to name a few. Letting the way they perceive life affect you is the 1st step to letting it change you. Let the thought that their flaws will get back to them ease your frustration. If you can’t control it, don’t let it control you. Back off, slow down, smile, wave and take a few deep breathes into your stomach, not your chest.

  19. I have tried for decades to not live in FoF mode from morning to night, but considering how my forming years went I’m convinced peace is unattainable. Given that I’m a parent to half a dozen kiddos I’m stuck in a perpetual war zone 99% of the time. I’ve tried mindful breathing, therapy, exercise, fake it until you make it, etc but nothing, absolutely nothing brings me peace. Last summer we went camping in Michigan and the prep, the drive, the act of being away from home, the inconvenience of no running water, made me intensely enraged. At times when my fiancΓ© is outside doing things with the kids this inexplicable rage bubbles up and then a deep guilt washes over me because I should be out there but I don’t want to. Sorry for rambling on your post but the topic got to me…spoke to me on some level… Thank you

  20. I know that during my childhood, and well into my young adulthood, I was always like this. People would ask me – almost every day even – “why are you so angry?” I never had an answer. I still don’t know why other than I felt like I was beating my head against the wall every day for no reason. I’m not even sure when the shift away from that started, but it has. It’s wonderful to finally find someone that has put to words what I’ve been trying to puzzle out and master.

    Thank you.

      1. Well one thing I am learning from raising my children is “all things in due time” because not everything goes the way we want it, or in the speed in which we want it. Each child has their own path and destiny in their development and they will take it at their own pace – that includes ourselves.

        So try to be more compassionate with yourself. Believe it or not you are going at the pace nature intends. After all like I often need to remind myself, a caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly overnight. πŸ˜‰

        1. I really appreciate what you’re saying but I have to say that when I look at older kids, or adults who are a complete mess I have some fear that my kids will turn out that way… I know it doesn’t do me any good, but a hard one to let go of.

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