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Getting to Know your Amygdala

Happy woman

Ever lain in bed listening to the sound of a car alarm and the utter relief when someone flips the switch and there is finally silence? Ever wish you had a similar turn off switch for all the noise and tumult in your body and head? Well here is the good news: you do. It is called the amygdala. However, this internal alarm switch of yours is so finely tuned that every time it gets tripped, it needs you to be an expert in knowing how to focus and direct your attention to either turn it off completely or lower its volume to an appropriate level of response according to the given moment.

Yes, your amygdala which can set off lifesaving brain activity in the appropriate moments to ensure your safety, is also responsible for panic attacks, anxiety, fear, stress, depression, impulsive behaviors, obsessions and many of the other sensations, feelings and beliefs that may send you scurrying in search of help and relief.

The amygdala is made up of exquisitely fine-tuned neurons that are responsible for determining the body/mind’s emotional response to its environment. It is always on the lookout for danger and therefore anything or anyone that feels in any way threatening in the present moment or that for some reason probably related to past experience, makes the present moment feel dangerous, triggers the switch which in turn sets off its alarm system.

“Calm down Amygdala,” as one client used to like to say to herself tapping herself on her head when she felt particularly stirred up. This is indeed the message the amygdala often needs to hear and obey.

It would be nice if simply those words could do the trick for everyone all the time. It is astounding how much can calm down or clear out of our heads when we do learn to focus and direct our intention to the offending issue in an appropriate and timely way. In some instances, it is indeed astonishing to see how quickly this can be accomplished. Of course in more complex situations things happen much more slowly.

Once we do acquire a toolbox of resources and techniques, we can use them to help us calm and regulate the flow of information and energy to our body/minds so that our amygdala does not fire off when it is not warranted.

Many of the new brain-based therapies are geared toward giving the message to the amygdala or to the limbic regions of the brain that they are safe in the moment.

In other words, it is not really you that is the problem, it is your brain and the way that it is wired and the way it feeds information to your amygdala. All of which means that the settings acquainted with your amygdala and learning to master its responses is an effort well worth making because it can enable you to have a more peaceful and satisfying life.

A tip, and another way to talk to your amygdala:

  • Sit down on a chair that has arms.
  • Focus your attention on whatever is bothering you. Name the emotion you are feeling.
  • See if it belongs to the past or the present. See if you can see where you feel it in your body.
  • · Now, keeping your intention focused on your original problem and adding any new information, just try tapping your hands on the arms of your chair, alternating one hand with the other.

Note what happens. If nothing happens, that is ok. If something happens, note that too. If you can keep this technique up regularly or incorporate it into whatever practice you do already, you may well begin to perceive changes and you will be well on your way to acquiring your own personal toolbox right in the power of your own body/mind.