“How is quieting my amygdala going to help me?” you may be asking.The amygdala is found nestled in the midbrain, two small almond shaped clusters who’s primary role is to process emotions and memories associated with fear. It’s primary role is to regulate our fear response. Our amygdala, when over activated, acts as a ‘short-cut’ and can override our rational thinking brain. This can cause a lot of anxiety! Yes, this can be a problem and it’s the reason why learning to quieten our amygdala is an essential element to managing anxiety and increasing calm.
Within the changing season and climate of the pandemic we may experience increased discomfort and concern about maintaining our work, our children’s well-being and our own self care. The body’s nervous system may be urging hyper-focus on COVID -19 information and related concerns. This is actually a survival tactic directed by the amygdala, our alarm system. This concern and associated anxiety can consume our awareness and attention leaving us increasingly fatigued, confused and even hopeless about how to deal with our own wellness. These are all signs that the amygdala may be overly-engaged.
We may unconsciously allow this important but less intelligent part of our brain to be in charge.
While important, the amygdala can hijack the more rational brain processes to keep us feeling anxious, unsafe and uncomfortable. It can cause sleepless nights, emotional eating, increased drug and/or alcohol use as well as symptoms of anxiety, depression and obsessive/compulsive behaviour. It can in fact be counterproductive and create any number of destructive coping strategies. Not good.
In addition, with our brain’s focus on survival, our defense of self protection and self focus can result in relationship withdrawal and/or acting out. That’s ironic given relationships are one of the main places we so often find comfort, security and calm.
Take a moment now to read these 3 proven ways to quiet the amygdala, decrease anxiety and increase calm in the mind and body.
1. Regular Mindfulness Meditation
Several studies over decades including Harvard neuroscience research lab have been studying the effects of mindfulness on the brain. They have concluded that as little as 8 consecutive weeks of mindful meditation practice can improve our mental health! In summary, they found that meditation:
- Decreases anxiety and depression
- Reduces stress
- Reduce chronic pain
- Improve sleep
- Improves cognition, attention and working memory
- Decreases the size of the amygdala
2. Deep Breathing
Studies have shown that deep belly breathing can calm the amygdala down. Slowing our breathing down subsequently slows the heart rate down and as little as five minutes a day can calm your overstimulated amygdala. The benefits of deep breathing is a combination of slowing your heart rate and focusing attention from anxiety provoking thoughts to present and body centered experience.
3. Thought Challenging
Bring your awareness to the thoughts in the mind that are increasing your anxiety and keeping your amygdala engaged. Identify the thoughts and how focusing your attention on these thoughts and this story, which is usually future or past focused, keeps you anxious. Pull your attention to the present. Ask yourself if that thought is true at this moment in time. Notice how you’re experiencing being in your body. Notice your breath, your immediate surroundings, visual, auditory and sensory. Bring your attention away from anxiety provoking thoughts and to the present experience of the moment will enhance calm and slow the amygdala activation.
Try these out. Let us know what worked for you and/or what didn’t. We welcome your questions and feedback. We are here to help increase your awareness, decrease your anxiety, improve your relationships and help you improve your overall wellbeing and happiness. With questions or to book an appointment contact us @ [email protected] and/or visit our website: www.bachcounselling.com.
By Heather Bach MA, CCC
Clinical Director, BCG