What Is The Amygdala (And Why It Matters)
Fear. It’s an emotion that can take you on an exhausting roller coaster. Some fears are rational. If someone pulls a gun on you and tries to rob you, for example, you’ll experience great fear, terror most likely. Other types of fear are not so rational. You may, for example, have an exaggerated fear, or phobia, about crowded spaces that makes something as routine as grocery shopping a nightmare.
Your body’s fear factory is something called the amygdala, two almond-shaped clusters of nervous tissue in the brain’s temporal lobe. The amygdala is part of the brain’s limbic system which deals with emotion and memory. It’s the decision-making gland that sets the adrenaline-fueled fear response into action.
I’ve written before about what happens when our bodies go into fear mode, setting off a chain of events that generate a state of stress. When a human cell is in stress mode, it becomes a mini fortress. It is closed, doesn’t absorb nutrition and doesn’t release toxins and waste. It becomes both energy- and oxygen-deficient, and it’s much more likely to manifest disease. According to research from Harvard and Stanford, when this failure mechanism is turned on in your brain, you can experience adverse health effects that range from depression and high blood pressure to insomnia and poor digestion.
God brilliantly designed our bodies for survival. But that survival instinct has drastically changed in modern times. When a car cuts you off in traffic or a fire alarm goes off, your stress response kicks in to help you react quickly and get out of danger. The problem is that many of us live our entire lives in this state of stress, or fear. A fight with a spouse, a big work deadline, an overloaded schedule or even an unexpected traffic jam can put us in this fearful state of high alert. Our stress response glands kick into high gear and continually flood our body with stress hormones, causing irrecoverable damage.
The term "amygdala hijack" was coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Goleman used the term to recognize the way humans have retained this ancient structure in our brain that was designed to respond swiftly to a threat. And as I just mentioned, what humankind interprets as worthy of “fight or flight” mode is vastly different than what our ancestors dealt with. We are sent into fight or flight mode multiple times a day.
Today I want to share a few fascinating facts about the amygdala and its significant role in impacting emotions and even memories:
The amygdala helps the brain with fear conditioning. No doubt you’ve probably learned about classical conditioning when studying Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov’s work with dogs. He found that through repeated exposure, a stimulus elicits a particular response. The dogs in his study began to salivate every time a lab technician brought them food. Over time, Pavlov noted the dogs also began to salivate as soon as they saw the technician, whether he had food or not. Most of the real world examples of fear conditioning are beneficial (ie you get burned once by touching a hot stove and you’ll never do it again). But some develop into unhealthy fears and phobias.
The amygdala attaches emotional significance to memories. Memories are stored in different parts of the brain. Fear-based memories are specifically stored in the amygdala. This is particularly important because strong emotional memories (e.g. those associated with shame, joy, love or grief) are difficult to forget. The permanence of these memories suggests that interactions between the amygdala, hippocampus and neocortex are crucial in determining the ‘stability’ of a memory and how it is retained over time..
The amygdala helps form new memories specifically related to fear. Fearful memories are formed only after a few repetitions. Understanding how the amygdala processes fear is important because of its relevance to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which affects 8 percent of Americans according to the PTSD alliance.
Humans have complex emotions and fear is just one component. Our emotionally-charged memories are often deep-seated and potentially detrimental to our health and well-being. Using my methods like Memory Engineering and Trilogy you can heal these fear-based memories that you have stored away and finally be released from their toxicity. Stop living in fear and start living in love. I hope these tools help you!
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