Overcoming the Amygdala Part 54
We’ve looked at fleshing out a Life Profile using various tools including Affinity Maps to help you determine more about who you really are, and I hope that these things have helped you to develop a one- or two-page document which sums you up with all your delightful foibles, attributes and quirks.
Your Amygdala Statement is the next thing to focus on, and this is a little trickier because a) your amygdala isn’t quite part of your ordinary everyday consciousness and b) it may itself interfere with any statement about it.
Your Amygdala Statement
Some religious people claim that every human being has a guardian angel, a heavenly being who watches over you and protects or guides you in an ongoing if invisible way. Your amygdala could be pictured as a kind of biological or mental equivalent — it is designed to detect danger and to protect you from perceived threats. Unlike a guardian angel, though, its methods are very tangible: the faster heart rate, waves of fear and nausea, endocrine reactions and so on are anything but ‘invisible’. Another difference is that, whereas we are told that guardian angels don’t intervene without being explicitly asked, the amygdala has been built to act without any kind of permission. It’s an automatic mechanism: threat perceived = parasympathetic nervous system instantly activated.
What we want to try and do with an Amygdala Statement is determine under what circumstances does this occur for You, the individual.
Everyone is different: some people’s amygdalas are triggered by health worries or fears about relationships, or finance stress, or impending world situations; others are activated by the daily news, or by situations at work or by some kind of moral or spiritual crisis. The range of perceived threats, in other words, is wide and deep and varies according to an individual’s circumstances, predispositions and background. A Native American may have quite a different set of perceived threats from a Chinese labourer; an older man in Chicago may have a set of things triggering his amygdala which would be unrecognisable to a young girl living in Papua New Guinea. Age, gender, location, health, family background and so on all contribute to a highly particular amygdala pattern.
Are you anxious about your health, or another’s?
Are you worried by work and finances?
Are you fretting over social or environmental concerns?
Try to pin down as precisely as you can whatever it is that is ‘freaking you out’: what are the things that particularly trigger your alarms?
Do they get triggered daily, or only now and again?
Are they things you wake up to, or are they activated by particular circumstances?
Do your best to pin these down. There will probably be many things on your list.
It doesn’t matter if what you come up with is imperfect: it’s not a scientific or medical analysis, just something to help you with the process of improving your social relations.
That doesn’t mean that you have to share either your Life Profile or Amygdala Statement with anyone else. On the contrary, having established the documents for yourself, you can destroy them if you wish. They are not relevant to anyone else, really.
But what they can do is help you to communicate about yourself in social situations. Not in the sense that you keep them in your pocket and pull them out like a business card when introducing yourself, but by clarifying inwardly who you are they can help to ‘anchor’ you, to boost your confidence, and to support you when you find yourself in an amygdala-triggering situation.
Remember that what we’re trying to do is use social media to alter the normal pattern of our passive lives and shape our lives into a more active experience. Earlier, we joined various groups whose general nature was aligned with our own interests and passions. This should have given us a broad background of support, without us having to mention anything specific or personal about ourselves at all — in fact, this all works better if we have assiduously avoided getting personal in any way. Now, having accomplished the Life Profile and Amygdala Statement phase, we should begin to perceive individuals within the groups we have joined as more likely to be of specific interest to us.
Is this the time to zoom in, introduce ourselves and ‘lay claim’ to another person on social media? That would be inopportune and unappealing if it happened to you, wouldn’t it? So no, there is no 'zooming' or 'swooping' or 'laying of claims'.
What there is is patience and increased, quiet and sensible communication with a smaller set of people. This in itself will help to defuse the amygdala — sane communication tends to switch off mental alarms.
The magic happens when others begin to communicate even more — and we find that their communications align with our own.
You’re not looking for a life partner or even a lifelong friend, though this can happen at this stage — you’re looking for understanding. This can take the form (and often does) of finding that someone else has had a parallel experience or set of experiences to your own in terms of mental health, or it can just be that you find yourself communicating with people ‘of like mind’ on a recurring basis. As affinity grows, polarity drops; alarms quieten and can fall silent.
You will have effectively closed the gap in social interaction which gave your amygdala room to manoeuvre — now, things may settle down and Life may well take on a more pleasant aspect overall. It’s possible that this improvement in social interaction may lift you out of the Anxiety Zone altogether.
All you have to do is persist: maintain sane, recurring and balanced communications and you should find that your whole mental health improves.