Is your response to a sudden jolt or unexpected disappointment kind or cranky?
Science determines our mental growth or regression in a widely misunderstood but vital operation of our brain, called the amygdala. Art determines the emotional and mental benefits or battering we build into our lived amygdala experiences. Had I known the amygdala’s superpowers in younger years as a career leader and single parent without any support, I’d have been a far better balanced parent and leader. Luckily my career was good to me and my amazing daughter loves me in spite of weaknesses. Whether you benefit from or batter your brain, do be kind to you, for starters. A robust and healthy amygdala, it’s important to note, rarely beats up on our personal emotional missteps. In fact our brains favor new awareness that offers inner strengths and also benefits others more while judging far less. Consider the art and science of an awesome, or awful, amygdala.
A complex blend of intertwined social, mental, spiritual and physiological factors arise to form our kind or cruel reactions when challenges arise. It’s safe to say here that kind or caring responses come from a tamed amygdala, while cruelty or crankiness comes from an untamed amygdala. See the cranky or kind amygdala choices below.
New neural discoveries, such as our amygdala’s enormous ability to remain kind, act as a problem-solving tool, and help us react with calm and care even when stressors arise. So why does an untamed amygdala fall into anxieties and expect toxic reactions whenever stress strikes? Consider the opposite of cranky below.
Think of one hero in your life who offers refreshing insights to resolve stress-related situations. Consider a parent, cousin or grandparent who elicits mental and emotional architecture that supports stress-free and healthy choices. Perhaps that person loved and supported you without judgment when you messed up most. Perhaps he or she modeled kindness that you’d like others to see in you. My own grandmother loved us without conditions and I still feel her enormous love when her name comes up. To claim, “we all get cranky,” is to overlook our brain’s enormous capability for tamed responses. My grandmother’s kindness came without conditions when I needed her support most, and without judgment when I likely deserved her care least.
Since emotions survive after actions and memories vanish, it’s worth a new look at moods and our personal as well as collective behaviors that an amygdala controls. How so?
For instance, our amygdala (or the seat of all sentiments, reactions, and passions) stores every emotional response we choose to make daily? It’s also true that repeated emotional responses – both good and bad – become our identical reactions when similar situations arise in future. Have you experienced it?
Walk up to a colleague and the brain reaches into its amygdala to retrieve and reuse our stored reactions to that person. Children find more smiles than smirks filed there, because kids laugh about 300 to 500 times a day, compared to adults who average 17 laughs daily.
For a tiny sac of neurons, our amygdala can zap an ordinary day into havoc – like lightning strikes an iron rod. Long before we’re aware of it, our inner dragon moods can emerge from amygdala storage, and strike. Whenever a situation jolts us off reliable tracks, it’s likely the seething amygdala culprit that burns like fury just below the surface.
On the other hand recent research shows our amygdala is also key to socializing, and building stronger communities. A healthy amygdala means more fun within closer social interactions. It’s not about denying hurtful feelings when wronged, but is about reacting with a brain-friendly solution in the situation. Choose genuine forgiveness to an unfair barb, for instance, and your amygdala stores that act of forgiveness rather than self-pity that files away there if we dwell on personal injustices.
Communities can develop a collective amygdala storehouse that files caring reactions to handle hot topics without shout out attacks, for instance. As the seat of our emotions, the amygdala can turn ordinary communities into train wrecks and can transform challenging communities into magical adventures.
At times it’s a matter of learning to let go, yet once its power over our group gets discovered, we can guide the amygdala to work more in our favor. It even helps us move from fear of inviting a new person to join, into freedom that celebrates diverse insights welcomed on every topic.
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Located deep within our brain’s temporal lobes, this almond shaped mood bender, helps to shape and store reactions to unexpected shockers in our day. Will we shout or smile? Will we freeze in fear or risk with courage? The little neuron group pretty much decides for us, based on what emotional reactions we stored there over time.
Sit through an upsetting meeting, and this tiny arousal center may incite negative emotions in response, or calmly doodle in the margins to apply something learned. The former stores frustration, the latter stockpiles curiosity-building and a sense of wonder.
There’s more too. An agitated amygdala control center engages brain stem circuits that impact facial expressions and body language. It also triggers release of chemicals such as serotonin spigots of wellbeing or cortisol toxins into the blood. It triggers back courageous reactions, or unwanted knee-jerk emotions. It’s even activated by nasty or nice odors on occasion. So why does the human brain come with such a predictable and sometimes pesky part?
It’s quite straightforward. Without our amygdala, we’d lack any response to screams, cries for help, shocking movies, or other horrific encounters. Perhaps more importantly, it helps us laugh more at self, and bypass bullies or cynics we encounter.
Unfortunately though, it also tends to toss us into turmoil without much notice. Can you see why people develop skills to tame dysfunctional thinking and modify behaviors that follow toxic amygdala triggers?
Our outside world, our experiences and our reactions impact and shape this unique area in human brains. It’s to blame for knee-jerk responses and unwanted panic reactions just as it deserves credit for those compassionate exchanges that serve others well.
You’ve likely surmised the brain’s emotional storehouse is also flexible. Our amygdala can even be tweaked to transform panic reactions into calm in the face of fear, anxiety, stress, or frustration encounters. How does it happen?
Meet the Namungo Gang!
In the diagram above you will see MYG, the fictitious character with a real amygdala. MYG illustrates how we simply and deliberately can act in the opposite direction of any volatile, negative, or moody feelings. If feeling fearful or if you are embarrassed, for instance, try disagreeing more with the brain in mind. In this way, the very act of using a skill to disagree well, begins to rewire our brain for healthier responses in future situations.
Simply put, we can learn to bypass our amygdala‘s automatic default operations, in much the same way we choose to tap different buttons on a computer, in order to enter a different screen.
Awareness counts here. React in the default mode and our amygdala can heat up a situation by placing us in far too sensitive a mood, flooding our brain with cortisol chemicals, and causing us to overreact. Caught under attack we’ll respond accordingly, whether the attack is real or perceived, unless we help out our brain by storing kinder emotions, rather than gotcha-reactions.
Because of our amygdala, we can develop, store and use different strategies to add calm under pressure. As we build and model healthy emotional patterns for dealing with stressors, we begin to see mental wellbeing in practical and useful tools. Mindful tactics help us to deal more calmly with difficult situations that arise in every community, simply by doing what we’d like others to see in us.
Entire communities can help tame a group amygdala more than most people realize. In fearful situations, others can emulate support for the opposite of fearful reactions, for instance. With another person’s encouragement, our stored amygdala’s typical fear response can suddenly fade or disappear – replaced by stockpiled supportive emotions from like-minded individuals.
When emotional lightning strikes, hold a community back, it’s likely time to snip our amygdala before it snipes back? We can also introduce transformational tone tips that amp up cognition from diverse angles with tamed amygdala exchanges!
Moods Trigger Cool Choices
What’s around your next corner that could hurt, or disappoint, or leave you feeling sad, guilty or in mental ruts for days? Have you encountered cynics who reject, belittle, or ignore those who differ? Sometimes it’s merely a matter of forgiving a person in order to regain good moods.
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Snip Amygdala Before you Snipe Back
It’s not easy to remain calm when we feel the sting of words spoken by a trusted colleague, open a critical email that stings, rejects, criticizes, or diminishes us though. But why intensify the damage, when we possess mental possibilities to replace our mood stockpiles and stop beating up on ourselves or blaming others.
Rather than judge a culprit’s motives, regret our own weaknesses, or focus on deciphering what that person could be saying in meta-messages spoken, simply snip away. Sure, use good tone, and name the problem honestly rather than deny it exists, but then react in a way that lays down new neural connections mentally in a place to grow from the experience. Store a few delightful reactions and we may even offer an olive branch in response – rather than grow depressed over challenges.
Refuse to Replay Personal Hurt Narratives
Fun new adventures in the direction of community service or mutual support offers our brain a gentle place to build new neuron pathways for amygdala health. Through our focus on an activity with shared value, we also reclaim our sense of wonder and we set the stage to welcome back that inner joy many crave and few facilitate .
Record progress as the communities grows. Have you been confronted with a shattering experience, yet remained calm because you deliberately snipped your amygdala before it sniped back?
Let it Go!
When we truly let go – we break from inner fears or confusion and we prepare our brains for a confident and courageous response. Yes, even when we confront a bully’s taunt’s or golf a round that disappoints. Not that we deny personal affronts. Just the opposite. We choose calm deliberately and let go of anything that blocks its benefits. Denial, along with its handmaiden, inner rage, would likely store away there only to pop up and sink our wellbeing in the next emotional reaction to an insult. What emotional responses to stress are stored most in your amygdala? Cranky? Or kind?
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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset
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