by Glen Depke, Traditional Naturopath
Do you ever wonder why sometimes something stresses you out and you just like lose your flipping mind? You either get so afraid or angry that you go into this major defense mode or major attack mode, and you just open your mouth and stuff comes out that you know you’re going to regret as it’s coming out of your mouth. But you seemingly have no control over this. And I think every one of us, myself included, have done this at some time. And really what this is tied into, it’s actually something called your Amygdala. Now you’re Amygdala, which is actually a combination of nuclei in the brain that form two little spheres about the size of almonds that are right in that back, here, just above the brainstem, toward the back of the brain. And basically what the Amygdala is, it’s what we would refer to as like your reptilian brain.
It’s the aspect of you that is actually designed to save your life. Yet, most of our stress responses are not really … It’s not an emergency situation. You know, you think of the stress you deal with on a daily basis. As example we’re talking about traffic on the interstate, a bill in the mail you can’t afford to pay when it’s due on that date. Maybe it’s an argument with a spouse, challenges with your kids, an issue at work. You get the picture. So, this is what’s going on, but what that does is still triggers the Amygdala and your body still takes it as an emergency life or death situation, and it really has the ability to push us into this deeper state of fear or anger which may lead to some less than desirable reactions in our body.
Drives Both Negative and Positive Emotional Responses
Now, what’s interesting with the Amygdala though, it’s not just about fear and anger. It also can drive a more of an emotion of pleasure or motivation. So, you see, the Amygdala very often triggers challenges with overreactions due to the fear and anger, as I already mentioned. Or it could lead to some less than preferred choices with food or sexual behavior, because of that level of motivation and pleasure as well. Now, when this is working correctly though…think about this, you want the Amygdala, because if you really do have a true life or death situation that is an emergency, you want the Amygdala to take over and push you into that extreme response very quickly, which leads into a whole cascade of other hormonal and neurological events, that puts your body in a position to save your life, to either run or to fight through whatever that danger may be.
But you see, in our regular life, the Amygdala is often creating challenges for us because of the overreactions on multiple different levels tied into either more of the fear or anger, or, on the other side, tied more into the pleasure of motivation. And we get to where we do things that we really … we know we don’t want to do, but we do them anyway. So the missing piece of this is tied into what separates us from every other mammal. All mammals have the Amygdala. But what separates human beings is we have, right in front part of the brain, something called the prefrontal cortex. And the job of the prefrontal cortex is to kind of sift through what the Amygdala is pulling up and create a level of recognition. Is this really truly an emergency situation?
Should I really be driving this fear and this anger? Or if the Amygdala is pushing me to eat something that I know is really not good for me, or pushing me into some level of sexual activity that is not in alignment with the integrity within my relationship, that’s the job of that prefrontal cortex, you see? So the prefontal cortex will recognize something that’s not an emergency. It will recognize something that is not the level of pleasure or motivation that in a long term is good for us. And then the prefrontal cortex basically shuts down the Amygdala and we don’t have those reactions. So if you find yourself as a person who makes poor food choices, as an example, let’s say you know that gluten does not do you well at all. Yet, the Amygdala, without the proper prefrontal cortex function, keeps driving you down the path to make a choice of actually consuming gluten.
Or for the male or female who might find themselves doing something outside of the integrity within their relationship, based on sexual impulses, or as mentioned before, if you find yourself overreacting to fear and anger, all of this really shows a prefrontal cortex that could actually probably use a little help. And that prefrontal cortex dysregulation could be caused by past trauma to the brain. It could be caused by the consumption of gluten or other cross-reactive, so food sensitivities. It could be caused by inflammation in the brain, as well as many other multiple factors. And what’s important though, is to recognize that this is something that you can change.
The Amygdala is Important – and You Want Control As Needed
The Amygdala is always going to be there and you want it to be there. But the prefrontal cortex, you can improve the function of that area of the brain to actually have better control when your Amygdala overreacts, whether through fear, anger, motivation, or pleasure, and keep yourself in a positive position on a regular basis.
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