How the Amygdala Works

How the Amygdala Works

The amygdala is involved in “the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events” (Wikipedia). The amygdala is called upon to mediate fight, flight or freeze responses. It is one of the main ways that we process emotional memories. The amygdala is capable of laying down very powerful neural pathways in the brain, in a very rapid fashion. This is normally a beneficial survival response. For example, sticking your finger into an active light socket is an experience that you won't soon forget -- the amygdala will make sure of that. The amygdala will create powerful neural pathways that initiate a series of physiological changes, in response to stimuli. For example, your body may tense up as if to protect itself from shock, as your hand comes near a light socket. These physiological reactions are often not under conscious control. This describes the normal functioning of the amygdala. The amygdala can become traumatized and/or overwhelmed, and begin rapidly laying down extraneous neural pathways, which in turn can create dangerous physiological changes in the body. It should be noted that this is my theory on how PTSD, MCS, CFS and related conditions are initiated in the body. This theory is not scientifically validated. This theory is based on direct experience, evidence from friends who have had similar experiences, and extensive research into these topics. Improper functioning of the amygdala may also be a factor in various food sensitivities, allergies, and cyclical stress responses like panic attacks. However, theory aside, there are practical ways to hack the amygdala and restore normal functioning in the body. Reacting to the Amygdala  Suppose that you're standing out on the street corner, a bus swoops by, and nearly kills you. Your body initiates a stress response -- you're feeling jittery and wired, your body is flooded with adrenaline. How you respond to this stress response will communicate information to the amygdala. There are three ways that you can respond: 1. Validate the stress response. "Oh my god, I almost died!". Worry about the bus almost killing you, fret about what a terrible driver that was. Make sure that the near-death experience stands out in your mind. This response will tell the amygdala that it's correct in laying down a new neural pathway, clearly associating the street+bus=death connection in your brain.  2. Shake it off. Don't respond to the stress in any significant way. Watch yourself react in a dispassionate, observational manner. This response will ALSO tell the amygdala that it's correct in laying down a new neural pathway, clearly associating the street+bus=death connection in your brain.  3. Smile and laugh at the bus. Make jokes about the experience. Shake it off, like water off a duck's back. Keep smiling and laughing, then turn your attention to something more interesting. This response will confuse the amygdala, and relay the message that it is INCORRECT in laying down a new neural pathway. That street+bus=death neural pathway will either decrease in strength, or will never be created in the first place. Practical applications of this theory will follow in future blog posts :) == Martin Pall, The Tenth Paradigm: Ashok Gupta, Amygdala Retraining Series: Levine, Peter A.; Frederick, Ann (1997-09-08). Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. North Atlantic Books.

Written on 2013/07/21

Written by Erik Schimek

Erik is an entrepreneur and self-improvement expert. You can learn more about Meliora Meditation at Infinite Chorus.

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