The 90 Second Rule is a term used by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist who specialized in the anatomy of the brain.
“When a person has a reaction to something in their environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop. Something happens in the external world and chemicals are flushed through your body which puts it on full alert. For those chemicals to totally flush out of the body it takes less than 90 seconds. This means that for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away. After that, if you continue to feel fear, anger, and so on, you need to look at the thoughts that you’re thinking that are re-stimulating the circuitry that is resulting in you having this physiological response over and over again.” -My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.
You may have noticed an emotional reaction after reading this. You may be asking yourself, “Why do I feel so emotional”? One response to this is that there may be some “big feelings” that need to be worked through. Recurrent, persistent feelings that are causing distress and impairing relationships, impacting work, school, or other important areas are an indication that something is going. Our emotions encompass experiences that combine physiological arousal; however, feelings are also influenced by our interpretation of how we perceive a situation. Especially when childhood experiences are rooted in early trauma, these narratives can be very painful and take time to heal.
Using a biopsychosocial approach, each person brings a unique set of variables that contribute to emotional responses.
- Biological: age, gender, genetic predisposition to medical and mental health, effects of substance use
- Psychological: coping & communication skills, trauma, emotional distress, memory & learning, attitudes, beliefs & expectations
- Social: Social supports, quality of interpersonal relationships, socio-economic status, cultural & environmental factors
Oftentimes individuals come to therapy to talk about difficulties with a relationship that are a source of conflict, stressors at work or school, and other general areas of life stress but have more difficulty with expressing the feelings related to these experiences. Feelings may be suppressed or avoided altogether. One may intellectualize problems as a way to cope while minimizing the emotion.
While the logic side of our mind is very important, so is the emotional side! This can start by learning to recognize and name the emotion and learning how to be more attuned to one’s emotions. Without awareness of our feelings and without awareness of how we experience emotion in the body, it can be difficult to engage.
Mindfulness is a great practice to increase awareness of emotions–to be able to focus one’s attention on the inner processes and experiences within the moment. Mindfulness allows the opportunity to observe and accept one’s emotions rather than try to avoid or make judgment about any thoughts that occur. Try using mindfulness (be an observer of the 90 second process).
If you are interested in learning more about emotional regulation, mindfulness, or would like additional support with maintaining good emotional wellness, CARE is here to help.