Have you ever thought about personifying your Amygdala, the almond shaped structures in the brain thought to be responsible for orchestrating the fight or flight response?
I call it Amy Gdala. Her role is to protect us but sometimes we enable her to get carried away as this experience describes.
What happened? I was overwhelmed by anxiety for almost two weeks.
The feeling crept up on me.
To start with I just felt unsettled and my mood changed. Not long after various thoughts started to circle in my mind around the threat of rejection.
As the feeling grew in intensity I was often on the verge of tears and once after work got into my car, broke down and howled.
When anxiety appears, we're convinced that we're endangered. The emotion itself is regarded as proof. But that's not necessarily true. While the experience of anxiety is real, the cause we attribute may or may not be (Russel B. Lemle)
I couldn’t seem to shake it. I was punchdrunk with negative thinking. I could see these thoughts. I knew it was an old, deep thinking track so tried to counter it with logic but nothing I tried would move me on. I was paralysed. Friends sent positive messages but I was floored.
Then one morning, I was walking to work trying to figure out a way 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 anxiety vanished.
It literally left me and I walked into work no longer overshadowed. Unknowingly, I had used mindfulness to calm my body and mind.
The fight/flight/freeze response associated with the Amygdala is a hardwired survival mechanism. Although very useful when threatened by things that could kill us, it is triggered by things in our environment that not only endanger us physically but also anything that threatens our sense of safety and our sense of self such as our viewpoint.
As the body is readied to take action, changes occur inside: body is tense, stomach churns, breathing quickens. We feel on high-alert.
At the same time our cognitive powers are switched off; turning us into reactors. No wonder I couldn’t think my way out with rational argument.
Amy continues to be alarmed if we continue to think in fearful ways, whilst the feeling of danger we sense in the body reinforces the thinking that we're not safe.
The more time we spend in distressing thoughts, the more we go down into Amy's bunker.
It's considered a thinking-feeling feedback loop.
Until we feel safe or the mind finds something more urgent to think about, we will be kept in Amy's dugout.
Turning the alarm off
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 my experience. In doing so I stopped fretting and let go of worrying thoughts. This in turn dialed down the body's alarm system.
We are wired to Amy so we need to make friends with her; curiously amie is French for friend.
She only tries to help but because she operates automatically she is off and running long before our conscious mind can engage.
Mindful awareness helps us recognise and observe when Amy is reacting and offers a means to put distance between us and worried thoughts, break the feedback loop and bring the system back into balance.
Take care of you.
Read about other ways to get off a negative thinking ride in this post