Find out how relating differently to our inner voice can help calm the mind.
Have you ever thought about naming the voice in your head that worries when you are feeling under pressure, stressed or anxious? I have taken to calling it Amy Gdala after the two almond shaped structures in the brain (amygdala) thought to orchestrate the fight/flight/freeze response.
Amy's role is to protect us but sometimes we allow her to get carried away, as this experience from my past demonstrates.
A long time ago, before I learned about mindfulness, I was taken over by a sense of foreboding and dread that lasted for about two weeks.
The feeling slowly crept up on me.
To start with I just felt unsettled and my mood flattened. Then various thoughts about not being good started circling in my mind and intruding on my day.
As the feeling grew in intensity I was often on the verge of tears and, one evening after work, I got into my car, broke down and howled.
I couldn’t shake it. I was punch-drunk with negative thinking.
I could see each thought. I knew it was an old, deep, auto-track so tried to counter it with logic but, nothing I tried would move me on.
I was paralysed.
Then one morning I was walking to work, fretting about how to break this emotion’s hold, when I noticed the blueness of the sky and the brightness of the morning.
I stopped. I breathed. I smiled.
The fear and anxiety that had had hold of me literally vanished and I arrived at work no longer overshadowed.
Unknowingly I had used present moment awareness to recentre and reset my body and mind.
The role of AmyGdala
The fight/flight/freeze response associated with the Amygdala is a hardwired survival mechanism.
Although very useful when threatened by things that can literally kill us, it can also be triggered whenever our sense of safety or sense of self is threatened.
We feel the response happening inside of us, as the body is readied for action. The body becomes tense, heartbeat and breathing rates increase and our stomach churns.
We are put on high-alert.
Readied for survival, our reasoning powers are switched off; turning us into reactors. No wonder I couldn’t think my way out with logical counter arguments.
As long as we keep thinking in fearful ways, Amy continues to be alarmed.
Unfortunately, the changes we sense in the body can reinforce our thinking that we're not safe. The more time we spend in distressing thought, the more we go down into Amy's bunker.
We can get locked in this thinking-feeling feedback loop until we feel safe or the mind finds something more urgent/interesting to think about.
Turning the alarm off with mindfulness
When I had stopped to pause and notice my surroundings - the blueness of the sky, the brightness of the morning - I was totally present with the experience.
To drink in the beauty of the moment I had stopped fretting and let go of worrying thoughts. This provided just enough of a break to dial down the body's alarm system and quieten Amy.
It is thought that 90 seconds is all it takes.
Amy is your first responder. She is here to help but because she operates automatically she is off and running long before your rational, logical self can engage.
We are wired to Amy so we need to make friends with her; curiously amie is French for friend.
By taking regular mindful pauses in our day, we can notice when Amy is reacting. We can label the thought "worrying" or "Amy worrying" as a means to put space between the thoughts and ourselves, break any feedback loop and bring the system back into balance.
Take care of you.
Related: Learn how to switch from stressed to stillness, from chaos to calm using Benson's Relaxation Technique