What On Earth Is The Limbic System?

Mountains Some of the symptoms of chronic stress over a long period are negative feelings. These might be anything from moodiness and irritability to feeling overwhelmed and lonely. We all get these feelings from time to time, but chronic stress can cause them to be much more common.

Why is stress associated with emotion? In ancient times, if we were attacked by mammoths, cortisol would cause the limbic system to spring into operation, changing our mood to anger or fear, so that we were ready to fight or run away.

You can see that, originally, these emotional responses to stress were another practical tool. Now that traffic jams or noisy neighbours, rather than mammoths cause our stress, these responses are not so useful to us.

These feelings come from a small area deep in your brain called the limbic system. It’s a very ancient part of the brain. It doesn’t deal with logical thinking – it is part of the flight or fight response.

The Limbic System

The limbic system is a group of structures inside the brain. Each one has its own function and we don't know completely yet what everything does. However, you can get an idea from this list... (Don't worry, you don't have to learn the names!)
  • Hippocampus - this is repsonsible for long term memory
  • Amygdala - is in charge of emotions
  • Cingulate gyrus - helps with learning
  • Hypothalamus - controls and balances the basic functions via hormones - thirst, hunger, temperature, sleep anger...
  • Thalamus - deals with sensory feedback
  • Septal nuclei - the reward centre
  • and on the edge of the limbic system are the olfactory bulbs bring information about smell to the brain
So, to put it simply, you can see that the limbic system deals with memories, emotions and smells.

(By the way, I thought, if you have to look at a brain, this is very pretty.)

Rotating brain colored.gif