I have found naming the part of us that gets busy orchestrating the fight and flight response gives me back a sense of control and agency. Here I explain why.
Have you ever thought about personifying your Amygdala, two 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.
A long time ago, before I learned about mindfulness I was taken over by a sense of dread 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 not being good enough.
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 coming in. 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. Friends sent positive messages but I was floored.
Then one morning, I was walking to work fretting on 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.
Anxiety vanished and I walked into work no longer overshadowed.
Unknowingly, I had used present moment awareness 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 literally kill us, it is triggered whenever our sense of safety or sense of self is threatened including our own thinking about a situation.
We can feel the response happening inside us as the body is readied to take action. The body tenses, our heartbeat and breathing increases and our stomach churns. 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 logical argument.
Amy continues to be alarmed if we continue to think in fearful ways, unfortunately the feeling of danger we sense in the body reinforces the thinking that we're not safe.
It's considered a thinking-feeling feedback loop.
The more time we spend in distressing thoughts, the more we go down into Amy's bunker.
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.
To do so 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.
We are wired to Amy so we need to make friends with her; curiously amie is French for friend.
Amy is your first responder. She only tries to help but because she operates automatically she is off and running long before our conscious mind can engage.
Taking regular mindful pauses in our day helps us to recognise when Amy is reacting and offers a means to put distance between us and worried thoughts, break the negative feedback loop and bring the system back into balance.
Take care of you.
Related: Learn how the SOS technique helps regain clarity and control when Amy has sounded the alarm