Mindfulness and how it quieten down your brain's alarm system

Did you know that your brain has it's own alarm system?

The amygdala makes up part of your own personal alarm system. It is a tiny almond shaped region of the brain which is important for your survival. When it works properly it does a really good job of helping you avoid/get out of dangerous situations. If the amygdala senses danger it makes a split second decision and invokes the "fight or flight" response to get you out of that situation fast.

Unfortunately the amygdala can become over sensitive and alert you to every possible situation that may be a threat to you, no matter how trivial. This means that the fight or flight response can constantly be triggered unnecessarily and can lead to chronic stress.

There are many reasons why this part of your brain may become over-sensitive. A couple of possible reasons may include:

  • If you were brought up by parents/carers who were always stressed/anxious, as a child you may well have learnt to become stressed and anxious yourself. On an unconscious level you may well believe that the world is an unsafe place and there is a need to look out for all potential threats, real or not.

  • If you have experienced some trauma in your life then this can also activate the alarm system. Your amygdala may start alerting you to any and every possible danger to keep you away from any threats no matter how trivial.

Having an over-sensitive amygdala can be likened to having an over-sensitive car alarm that you only have to stand within 2 feet of and the alarm goes off. With a car alarm you can simply take it to the garage to have it adjusted. With an over-sensitive amygdala you could go to the doctor but the only remedy you will receive are tablets to suppress your emotions, but these unfortunately will only mask the problem.

What can you do?

The most effective ways to quieten the amygdala is by taking part in some form of daily relaxation/stress management technique which can help in the following ways:

  • Quieten your amygdala (your alarm system)

  • Help you deal more rationally and calmly when you are faced with a stressful situation

  • Help you to cope with life's ups and downs more easily

  • Reduce stress and anxiety which can help to improve your physical and mental health & well-being

Relaxation techniques may include breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, mindfulness, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, visualisation etc. Have a read of my blog post "6 Great Ways to Manage Stress" for more information.

Mindfulness and the amygdala

One of the best ways to quieten the amygdala is by taking part in a mindfulness programme. It is a form of mind training that teaches you to:

  • Become more self-aware of your thoughts

  • Helps you to take control of your mind, rather than your mind controlling you

  • Notice when your mind is wandering

  • Become an observer of your thoughts rather than always buying into all of the fearful thoughts that can lead to stress & anxiety

  • Helps you to bring your focus back to the here and now, the only time that you can ever be truly present

Taking part in an 8 week mindfulness programme has been shown on MRI scans to actually change the physical structure of the brain in the following ways:

  • The brain’s fear centre, the amygdala (alarm system), appears to shrink

  • The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker

  • The frontal cortex associated with awareness, concentration and decision-making, becomes thicker

  • The connections between areas associated with attention and concentration become stronger

The reduction in the size of the amygdala correlates with a reduction in stress and anxiety.

Mindfulness Classes

If you would like to know more about mindfulness then check out one of my classes in Manchester. You can find more information here.

to a reduction in stress/anxiety.

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