My Amygdala and Me ….

Know thy Self

This week I did something I’ve done many times before, give a talk on mindfulness and how it can be of benefit to our health and wellbeing. I’m aware each time can be different because the venue is new, the people in the room have different needs and interactions produce different experiences.

The saying ‘know thy self’ becomes evident when we find ourselves behaving ‘out of character’ in new situations. Before I arrived at the venue, I knew my stuff, I was relaxed, calm and at ease. However, without warning that soon changed thanks to my kind but insanely over protective amygdala (I’m being kind because I don’t want to upset it and cause havoc like it did then) and everything I knew about myself evaporated.    

As I was about to begin, I noticed the room was very busy with lot of talk and noise going on, especially from the men which was great to hear. Thankfully a leading member of the group kindly and ‘loudly’ asked everyone in the room to be quiet and I was very grateful. He explained how much he valued the practice of mindfulness which was very much appreciated.

Expect the unexpected 

However, as I began to talk something I never anticipated happened with my own mind. It went blank! my very own security guard in my brain had been triggered possibly by the loud shout or from lots of noise in the room and completely wiped out my pre-frontal cortex. Everything I had in mind to talk about had vanished. What a moment for it to happen…not! On reflection had I been able to stay fully present I would have been able to explain what was happening as it was happening, and I feel sure everyone in the room would have offered empathy and understanding.

But instead my reactive autopilot took over and I can only explain what I imagined happened, because I can’t remember most of it. I’m not sure what the group experienced, but I can guess possibly watching and listening to a speaker whose lights were on but was no longer at home? Someone totally disconnected from themselves as well as everyone else in the room. The situation reminded me of something my mother said just before she died ‘I never expected this to happen to me’ aged 90!                                I’d very much like to listen to what the group experienced, with equal dread and curiosity.

Observations 

How to describe it now I’m present again… it was like the real me had been hijacked and an ‘imposter’ had taken over and attempted to give an insane description of what mindfulness (awareness) is from someone who had now completely lost awareness. It felt like I was jumping from one thing to another with no clear purpose or direction. Reacting to any interaction or freezing when asked a question I could normally answer. I had to be rescued whilst trying to remember from someone in the group who knew what I was desperately trying to explain. I lost sight of what was happening in the present moment, I couldn’t hear what was being said so I couldn’t listen to anyone properly. Mindless rather than mindful.   

I remember what I felt like, awkward and nervous, the sensations my body was experiencing varied, the usual butterflies in my gut turned into giant woodpeckers, my breathing which is normally deep was now shallow and my mouth began to dry up which wasn’t good today as I had a loose crown .. now that I was aware of!

I was kindly offered a drink of water before I began but regretfully refused because I’d done this many time before so never expected anything different, this experience proved only too well that being complacent and expecting similar results can derail us and often lead us into trouble or disappointment.

Each new experience, pleasant and unpleasant can teach us a lot if we are willing to take on the role of observer and reflect on them. The value we gain is determined on whether we choose to see them as positive learning opportunities or see them as negative painful experiences to be avoided.

Reflecting on the experience without judgment  

What have I learnt so far? Well I discovered some time ago my amygdala was very sensitive due to adverse childhood experiences. I also discovered practicing mindful meditation does reduce auto reactive responses by re-training the brain and raising awareness.

What I learnt from this experience?  is that no matter how much knowledge we have on a subject or what our good intentions are, when we come across life situations that present identifiable triggers our amygdala’s may be activated, our bodies then will flood with cortisol and turn off our senses and we lose awareness in the present moment causing us to lose control of ourselves.        

All our knowledge and intentions literally go out the window.   

Reflecting on these moments without judgment increases our insight and we can accept the more we understand the situation. Knowledge about any situation literally stops our ‘security guard’ from stepping in front of us to keep us safe and we can stay alert, present and our senses stay turned on. 

Insight is a wonderful thing

When we become too familiar with a situation, especially relationships with others we need to be careful it’s doesn’t develop into complacency, acknowledging this within myself is a big learning curve.

From this situation I’ve learnt to accept it might happen again and that’s ok because I now know the feeling will pass, by pausing, breathing and reflecting I give myself a chance to explain what’s happening in the present, this alerts me to changes as they happen without judgment and importantly accept my ‘quirks’ and those in others.

What can we do differently 

By accepting and knowing ourselves better we naturally improve our relationship with ourselves and others, we communicate better, and we get to enjoy our own and other people’s company as we become more present.

Of course, I could opt to avoid the same situation and avoid repeating the experience, but that would only increase my fears which would strengthen the amygdala, increase flight, fight, freeze reactions and ultimately build a wall within me, around me and between us. That would make me feel lonely and isolated, unchecked could lead to depression.

This proves it’s not in our best interest to avoid but understand what’s happened and accept it as an experience to learn and grow from.     

What I’d like to see happen  

I hope one day I get the opportunity to talk again with this group and explain what happened and how interrupting ‘auto thinking habits’ can help us get off autopilot reactions. If I’m not fortunate enough I hope one day they get to read this explanation and forgive my insanity.   

With Daily practice Mindfulness meditation can re-train the brain, increase awareness and reduce reactivity. But most importantly it gets us to look at situations from different perspectives, so we become more open and understanding rather than continually judging and critical of ourselves and others.

I truly hope my lapse in awareness didn’t confuse or cause upset to anyone. That was never my intention.  

Accept what happened, forgive ourselves and get back on it 

We all start the day with good intentions and by accepting they can be temporarily derailed by triggers that set off our security guard, we can be mindful of this by pausing, breathing and reflecting to bring us back to our senses and return us to calm and carry on with our good intentions.

We learn something new about ourselves every day and when we apply this learning it’s magical.   

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Wishing you well today.

Laura

Definitions of terms used

Amygdala (uh-MIG-duh-luh) a structure in the brain that play’s a role in controlling the fear response. People who have an overactive amygdala may have a heightened fear response, causing increased anxiety in social situations. Environment.

Complacency: a feeling of contentment or self-satisfaction, often combined with a lack of awareness of pending trouble or controversy. An example of complacency is the type of attitude a long-time leader may have.

Depression: is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed…Feeling sad or having a depressed mood

Intention: is an idea or plan of what you are going to do. Trump announced his intention of building a wall or “It is my intention to improve my health by going to the gym”.

Mindfulness: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Perspective: a particular attitude towards or way of seeing something; a point of view, a different angle. “most guidebook history is written from the editor’s perspective”

Pre-frontal Cortex:  is a part of the brain located at the front of the frontal lobe. It is implicated in a variety of complex behaviours, including planning, communication, rationality, impulse and emotional control and greatly contributes to personality development.

Laura Ann Hind

Over the last 5 years I have trained and qualified as a personal coach and developed a continued practice of Mindful Meditation. Whilst attending a retreat in the mountains of Spain I discovered the value of ‘unplugging’ from the many distractions in our daily life. This helped develop a self-awareness that resulted in a conscious response to negative thought patterns and associated emotions. The effect produced a more balanced outlook on life that increased feelings of calm and present moment living. Since completing further practice with Breathworks on ‘Mindfulness for Health’ and Mindful Living on ‘Mindful Based Stress Reduction’. I have used my experience to develop 'Time4Calm' a project which combines personal coaching with mindful practice that complement each other to the benefit of participants who suffer from mild anxiety and stress.

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