Saying that, the concept of the "Amygdala Hijack" is one that I did manage to find "pre-blogging", though not before I had experience it, and I really wished I had known what it was before it happened to me because it was very distressing. When my sister started going out with BIL2 and I started to realise that he was like a timesx10 worse version of BIL1, my whole body went into emergency mode. It was like I had lots of loud air raid sirens inside my head that wouldn't stop. All the cells in my body were jumping up and down and I felt like my body just wanted to run. And all of this was happening without me having a say in the matter at all. It was like the body had a will of its own which was commanded by somebody other than me and there was not talking it out of it. This went on for some time; in the end, I decided to use the energy to de-clutter the house. You might as well, hey... (The thought of going for a run also crossed my mind, but I didn't have anybody to go with and the park near my house joins an isolated forest. Probably not the best place to go running on your own.)
About a month later I was in the library and I saw a book called "Anxiety, Phobias and Panic" by R. Z. Peurifoy. I thought it might be helpful with the sleeping issue so I borrowed it, and what do you know? In the first lesson of the book there is a clear explanation of what was happening to me:
"When you experience something fearful or unpleasant, a memory of this is stored in the amygdala. When you encounter this object or situation again, an immediate fear response is triggered. This fear response causes you to experience anxiety and triggers the fight or flight response."
It was like my brain had taken one look at future BIL2 and remembered the 10 years of grief we'd had with BIL1 and said: "Not this again. ABSOLUTELY NOT. I'm getting you out of here."
The book goes on to say:
"The amygdala is designed to overreact to possible signs of danger. For example, a person living where there are poisonous snakes quickly learn to associate snakes with danger. The amygdala will then trigger the fight or flight response whenever anything that might be a snake is perceived. After all, if you are walking in the woods, it is better to mistake a stick for a snake than a snake for a stick. This all occurs very quickly at a unconscious level. This circuitry allows you to react very quickly to danger without the need to consciously think about what is occurring. Unfortunately events and objects that pose no threat can become associated with danger and trigger a fear response when you encounter them. "
I'm not sure that I agree with the "overreact" claim. If, like other researchers have claimed "“...the architecture of the brain gives the amygdala a privileged position as the emotional sentinel, able to hijack the brain.” or, in other words, the amygdala is our internal "body guard" surely the reaction is there for a reason. I strongly believe that if the alarm is there, is there for a reason, I think the brain is pretty good at telling the difference between "a stick and a snake", so you should never, ever, ignore it. To ignore would be tantamount of hearing a fire alarm in the house and turning the sound while ignoring the fire. Sure, I can understand that for people with issues like agoraphobia this might not be the case, but my gut feeling is that the brain tries to protect us when he knows that we are in danger and we don't have the skills to protect ourselves in that situation. Because presumably if we had those skills the brain would not identify the situation as danger in the first place. I have recently experienced this myself. Over the last few years I wasn't able to stop myself from going into a panic every time I heard the phone ring and it might be someone from my FOO. When we changed the phone to one that had no answering machine (so that I didn't have to come home to ominous messages :P), there were days were I could not answer it. Over the last month I have been picking it up more often, mainly because I have been practicing ways of standing up to my mother, and how not to get "embroiled" into "maze" conversations with my brother (another subject worth its own post). Since I feel more able to handle the conversations with them, when the phone rings I don't seem to go into the same mad panic anymore. Now that my brain feels more confident to face whatever phone calls I might get, it doesn't need to sound the alarm. It's like that scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" where Indiana Jones has to face a skilful swordsman and you think: Oh no! What's he going to do now? (Watch what happens...)
Well, he doesn't even batter an eyelid, does he? I love the expression of "I really don't have time for this..." in his face as he picks up the gun and shoots the guy. Not that I'm suggesting we shoot narcs to get them out of the way... but you get the idea. It's about finding that figurative gun so that we can deal with whatever comes up.However, while we pick up the skills to face "danger", we do need some tools to cope with the "flight" mode, because flight mode interferes with the thinking process which is what will eventually help us to find the gun. It's a catch 22: while we are on emergency mode, our brain can't think up any solutions: it's too busy trying to get you out of there to think with clarity. More on that on the next post.