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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

Managing The Amygdala

Every waking second we are alive, an avalanche of data pours in through our physical senses. We process this deluge of data with our brains and it is constantly sifting and sorting this information, trying to select and sort the critical information from the casual.

Nothing is more critical to our brains than survival.

The first filter most of the incoming information encounters in our brains is the amygdala.

The amygdala is an almond shaped sliver of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate and fear. It’s our early warning system, it’s always on high alert, and it’s job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten our survival. It’s anxious under normal conditions and then once stimulated, the amygdala becomes super vigilant. When this happens, our focus tightens and our flight-or-fight response turns on. Our heart rate speeds up, our nervous system starts firing faster, our eyes dilate for improved vision, our skin cools as blood moves toward our muscles for faster reaction times.

Cognitively, our pattern-recognition system scours our past experiences, hunting for similar situations, which helps identify the situation from our memory banks and then selects potential solutions to help solve the problem or neutralize the threat.

Once this response is turned on, it’s very potent. It’s almost impossible to turn off and therein lies the problem.

Many times, we are subject to our amygdala and our memory banks. If not aware of this, we become more pessimistic and less optimistic, since the negative recordings in our memories tend to carry more emotional eight than the positive ones. This can limit our desires to move forward as our fears and doubts can limit us going into the future. What complicates this even further is you are moved to take immediate behavioral action before actually thinking things through. The equivalent of jumping backward quickly when you thought you saw something squiggly on the ground which turned out to be leaves rustling in the wind rather than something potentially dangerous.

The remedy to this is to build your self-awareness.

The ability to be aware of this alarm system and manage it differently. One word of caution: when you begin this process, it will seem to you that the amygdala moves too fast to regulate. However, over time with awareness, you can learn to give less and more energy to it when it happens. More energy to push it up and less energy to hold it back.

If the amygdala has been activated and you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, hopeless, distressed, and/or confused; healthy distraction is a great technique to use. In the midst of these intense negative feelings, you can give yourself permission to distract yourself from the fear by concentrating on something else. You may choose to focus on a work related activity, exercise or a walk on the beach. This diversion from the fear will cause the amygdala to shut down its warning system because it will no longer feel that you are at risk for demise.

It is very important to understand that mastering the process above is far from an easy endeavor. It takes lots of practice and patience. It takes many instances of trial and error. You may find that one or more of these techniques presented here is effective or you may discover something that works for you that no one else has discovered. Sometimes no matter how good you are at these techniques, the amygdala is going to get fired up and you will be overwhelmed. It is possible to reduce the frequency of these incidents though and you need to be a warrior to reach your goals.

Once you have built mastery in this area of managing your emotional and behavioral self, you will begin to see much improvement in every important area of your life.

Go for it!

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