Friday, January 28, 2011

My Amygdala Has Been Working Overtime

I have been under a tremendous (for me) amount of stress at work lately. While at New Seasons last week, I bought a copy of Whole Living. I was attracted to the colorful line-up of smoothies on the cover, but it turns out there was something much better than a smoothie in that magazine--a one-page article called "Your Brain on Fear." Here's an excerpt that spelled out exactly what has been happening to me for the last several weeks. I cannot wait to read the book on which the article was based (even thought the book has a cringingly self-helpy sounding title). I need to get a better understanding of what is happening on the cerebral level.

Here's the excerpt from the article that really resonated with me (italics are mine). Can anyone else relate?

"When we're anxious, shock waves from the amygdala* start blasting through the brain's frontal cortex, the area responsible for planning and assessing a decision in terms of risk and reward. When the prefrontal cortex is affected, we have a shorter attention span and we're more easily distracted. A lot of people think they have ADD, when in fact they don't: It's not a problem of attention but of the anxiety center. If the amygdala continues to fire, it may cut off impulses to the thinking part of the brain, making it difficult to focus on simple tasks. Fear captures attention and makes us look for potential threats. We tend to see things more negatively, because that's what the fearful brain was designed to do. Fear and stress turn the conscious brain off, and what we have left to help us figure out solutions is the unconscious brain, which works quickly but not always accurately. When we're under stress, we tell ourselves not to do things, and then we'll wind up doing exactly the things we told ourselves not to do." **

*a small mass of nerve cells in the "primitive" part of the brain that activates whenever danger looms; it is wired to process fear first at the expense of other cognitive processes

**from "Your Brain on Fear" by Srinivasan S. Pillay, M.D. in Whole Living, January/February 2011

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