Sunday, December 04, 2016

Convincing My Amygdala that the Saber-toothed Tiger is Extinct

Brain studies -- I love them.  We're learning so much incredibly important stuff that we can use to make our lives better. 

Right now the articles I've read have informed me that if I had high levels of stress as a child -- which I did -- that my brain didn't develop normally.  Here's my probably-oversimplified-but-probably-accurate explanation:

The amygdala is the primitive part of the brain that alerts us when it thinks we're in danger.  We get a surge of adrenaline that gives us the power to fight or flee.  That's a good thing if we're living in a world where there are saber-toothed tigers everywhere.  We as humans probably survived thanks to the amygdala.

However, there are a whole lot of downsides to this mechanism.  The main thing is that there are no more saber-toothed tigers.  There are drunk mothers, etc. and that seems to have the same effect on a developing brain. 

The amygdala develops a large presence in the brain and for whatever reason the hippocampus (memory and learning center) doesn't grow as large as it's supposed to and the frontal lobes (that tell us whether to believe all the signals of extreme danger coming from the amygdala) don't grow as large either. 

So... if there's a lot of stress from poor parenting, poverty, abuse, disasters or whatever, the child's brain develops into an adult brain that works mostly to keep the adult in a state of anxiety, anger, and prey to bad choices to make the painful feelings go away.

Not a very functional adult.  That was -- and sometimes is -- me.

Not much research yet on solutions but there's enough to make use of.  For kids -- their need is a consistent food supply; warm, loving, present, unstressed parents; plenty of stimulation.  If they don't get those things...  For adults-- we need ways to calm our amygdalas down -- like yoga and meditation.  We need a nutritious diet with lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and good protein and lots of omega 3s.  We need lots of rest and many connections with loving people.  Kinda similar for us adults, huh?

Apparently we need to really work on shrinking our amygdalas, increasing the size of our hippocampus and frontal lobes or we're just going to go through life feeling as if we're being chased by tigers.  If we don't want to have a world full of kids acting like they're being chased by tigers, we will want to help parents provide the things their children need.

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