Tame Your Amygdala

eweber   September 24, 2008   53 Comments

For a tiny sac of neurons,  it zaps an ordinary day into havoc – like lightning strikes an iron rod, long before you’re aware dragon moods strike. Whenever your day jolts you off reliable tracks, it’s likely the seething culprit, and in some brains it burns like fury just below the surface.

On the other hand recent research shows your amygdala is also key to socializing, and a larger amygdala means more friends and family involvement.

Want to tackle hot topics without shout outs? Perhaps you’ve heard of the amygdala, or seen current research about its role in creating and storing emotional reactions to frightening situations. But have you heard how it turns ordinary days into train wrecks?

At times it’s a matter of learning to let go, yet once its power over your day is discovered, you can guide the amygdala to work more in your favor.  It even helps you move from fear to freedom.

Located deep within your brain’s temporal lobes, this almond shaped mood bender,  helps to shape and store reactions to unexpected shockers in your day. Will you shout or smile? Will you freeze in fear or risk with courage? The little neuron group pretty much decides for you. Sit through an upsetting meeting, and this tiny arousal center may well incite negative emotions in response. Have you seen it happen?

There’s more too. This agitated control center engages brain stem circuits that impact facial expressions and body language. It also triggers release of chemicals such as serotonin or cortisol into the blood, to trigger often unwanted emotional response. It’s even activated by nasty odors on occasion. So why does the human brain come with such a pesky part?

It’s quite straightforward. Without your amygdala, you’d have no response to screams, cries for help, shocking movies, or other horrific encounters. It can even help you to bypass bullies and cynics at work.

Unfortunately though, it tends to toss you into turmoil without much notice.  Can you see why people develop skills to tame dysfunctional thinking and modify behaviors that follow their amygdala triggers?

You’ve likely experienced how reactions impact and shape the human brain, in almost in knee-jerk responses. Unwanted panic reactions pop up when you encounter sudden or startling situations, for instance. It doesn’t need to be that way.

Your amygdala can be tweaked to transform panic reactions into calm in the face of fear, anxiety, stress, or frustration encounters.  How does it happen?

Simply act deliberately in the opposite direction of any volatile,  negative, or moody feelings.  If feeling fearful or if you are embarrassed, for instance, try disagreeing more with the brain in mind. In this way, the very act of using a skill to disagree well, begins to rewire your brain for healthier responses in similar situations.

Simply put, you can learn to bypass your amygdala‘s automatic default operations, in much the same way you choose to tap different buttons on a computer, to enter a different screen.

React in the default mode and your amygdala can heat up a situation by placing you in far too sensitive a mood, flooding your brain with cortisol chemicals, and causing you to overreact. Caught under attack you’ll respond accordingly, whether the attack is real or perceived, unless you intervene to help out your brain.

Because of your amygdala,  you can develop and use different strategies to add calm under pressure,  and as you build emotional patterns for dealing with stressors, you begin to see their practical usefulness.  Brain tactics help you to deal more calmly with life’s difficult situations, simply by doing what you’d like others to see in you.

Speaking of others – peers too can help tame an amygdala more than most people realize.  In fearful situations, others can support the opposite of fearful reactions for instance. With another  person’s encouragement, your stored amygdala’s typical fear response can suddenly fade or disappear – simply by support from a like minded individual.

Have emotional lightening strikes held you back, or do you snip your amygdala before you snipe back?

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53 thoughts on “Tame Your Amygdala

  1. Pingback: Comments Kill or Propel Innovation – Brain Leaders and Learners

  2. Shane

    Dr. Ellen Webber. Very interesting. How can someone (Me) get rid of a panic attack that started on 2004-present? Usually, a panic attack lasts so many minutes but one day back in 2004 I had one and it never turned off. The panic just got worst and has not stopped. I have gone through Hell on earth but I am alive. I have taken all the pills and one worked. The one that worked (Thank You Lord ) was Celexa but it stopped 2 years later. Then, I was Blessed Miraculously by morphine which has lasted more than 2 years and I am still alive. I know you are probably thinking how does he know it is still there well I have tested it. Well, I just want to get well if you can help. I know I am a severe case. None of the Doctors have ever heard of it. Thanks Shane

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