#ExploreMH is a series of articles and YouTube videos aimed at breaking down the stigma that surrounds Mental Health. You can watch the video series here.
The amygdala is a small nut shaped blob at the bottom of your brain. It is essentially the caveman part of your brain.
Anyway, this blob is found throughout the animal kingdom in creatures that have the almost instinctive fight or flight reactions. The amygdala is your inner caveman's red alert system. It works by sensing predators and making your legs run away before 'you' know it! Analogy time... Imagine it is the computer you bought in 1999 - it even had a floppy disk drive! The issue with our modern mind and our 21st century life and stressors is that we are trying to run Windows 10 on that 17 year old computer or even running a 'state of the art' Sat Nav and Car Interface on Windows XP! The two struggle to run together.
You spot something out of the corner of your eye. Your amygdala fires chemicals into your body putting you at alert status. The bigger the threat, the more chemicals it fires and the higher you go into Red Alert. Your rational mind turns your head and focuses on the item, comparing it to your in build wikipedia of experience and knowledge before logically deciding a response.
However, if your amygdala is already at Red Alert, your rational mind doesn't get a chance to anaylse the situation. You are hit by such a wave of stress, adrenalin and anxiety, you run. This would of been a handy instinctive-response if prehistoric you bumped into a sabre-toothed tiger. Every millisecond waiting for the rational mind to anaylse and process is a millisecond you need to run away from that deadly creature. My issue, and an issue alot of us face, is that our amygdala is putting us into the 'Red Alert' or 'Run Away' setting for situations that do not need it.
Rather than analytically seeing a drunk friend (read the full account here) my amygdala saw a threat which triggered the memory of dead alcoholic Mother. This quick recall function would be dead handy if you saw a big beast and your brain needed to quickly decide whether it is time to run from Mr Tiger or fight Mr Toad but when it is reloading and rebooting the anger and fear of my Mother and the awful situations I faced with her; it is less than helpful to say the least.
I'm paraphrasing quite a bit here but in essence I suffered a PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) type flashback. At some point, some detail of the event, or similar enough, happened with my Mother which is why my amygdala felt it relevant to re-experience the situation or parts thereof. It was a horrible experience, something which in 'the cold light of day' doesn't stand up to my logical mind's scrutiny but then emotions and the drivers of them, such as anxiety, rarely do.
In treating PTSD, Psychologists look to identify and gradually expose the patient to the stimuli involved in an attempt to reprogramme the amygdala not to have such a high alert response OR at least to try and process and analyse the scenario through therapy. It is interesting that I have only ever seen two people 'turn' into my mother. One as a teenager, which lead me to panic and get help and this occasion just two weeks ago. Trying to analyse the 'stimuli' or circumstances of each times doesn't quite work as the only matching criteria is a very drunk female yet I have been around very drunk Ladies before from family to best friends to customers and not suffered a response anywhere near that level.
That pink blob bought my Mum and all my fears and anger back to life.
Am I doing the right thing trying to process and correct what seems to be 'programming' errors in my system, seemingly my amygdala, or is it better to admit I will never function quite right and just try to live with life?
Read more on Matt's story at www.MattStreuli.uk
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