I have to chuckle sometimes at the marketing around down-regulating the amygdala. We’re on a mission to change our brains. It’s a fine mission, but it’s not like there is one road to Rome.
Much of this is tied to talk of trauma. What is needed to release trauma from the nervous system and get us out of the alarm state?
Depends who you listen to. The menu of options overflows, including an ever-growing variety of trauma therapies, specifically designed massage, acupuncture, yoga and other exercise systems, hypnosis, neurofeedback, computer games to retrain the brain, energy work, diet, nutritional supplements, working with breath, “trauma release exercises,” meditation, Nature, a secure attachment with another being, good psychotherapy, and as Rick Hanson, and other researcher-clinicians write, how we work with our minds—how we frame things, the narrative we tell ourselves about our life, what we give our attention to, “installing” positive experiences, and so on. Happiness researchers have similar lists of simple things that make a difference.
It’s not rocket science. Yes, the neuroscience is really science and has all the complexity to prove it; but what comes out of it are things any simple yet wise person, and many of those living in earlier times, understood. My Pooh-brain would say it this simply: Anything that leaves you relaxed, feeling safe and good inside is good for your nervous system.
I suppose there are a few exceptions. I’m not talking about heroin, but I think you know that.
It may take some fine tuning to work out your particular kinks. Maybe your gut flora is messed up (so much of the nervous system resides there). Maybe you’re eating foods you’re allergic to. Or your diaphragm is frozen. Or you have a lot of frozen feelings inside that need to get out. Or worry about real-world things keeps you in a stew of stress hormones.
My point is there’s not one magic bullet, no matter what technical jargon is used to pull you in. Your amygdala (alarm system) will turn off when you feel safe and learn to let go.
Many of the things that help us regulate the nervous system are simple—they would be natural if we were leading a more natural life. But we’re not. Modern life has taken us away from so much that is wholesome and replaced these things with things that make our minds and bodies cranky.
- Constant stimulation and multi-tasking. No downtime for the brain.
- Diets that worsen our moods and health rather than sustain us
- Thousands of toxic chemicals you put on your body, breathe, eat.
Do I even want to get into how many hours a day people spend on their devices?! How we’ve “paved paradise and put up a parking lot”?
Modern life, in our media-saturated culture, gorges the ego (think selfie-sticks) and starves the soul. We have turned life upside-down! People!
It’s great to go for that trauma therapy or nutritional supplement (I have), but let’s support it on a bigger foundation of a life with natural rhythms where we aren’t throwing ourselves off with blue light late into the evening, sugar bombs, constant noise, constant stimulation, the constant image-management of social media. Let it go!
Soul emerges as ego recedes.
The body heals itself, if we give it a reprieve from everything that depletes it.
Find the interventions that work for you, but correct your life so you don’t need to keep intervening. Rather than upsetting your tummy with junk food and following it with Alka-Seltzer, hold off on the junk food. Rather than speeding through your day and taking a pill to go to sleep, slow down. Rather than freaking out your amygdala with a scary movie, take a walk instead. Or cuddle. We’ll have fewer symptoms to treat if we can cut out the things that put us out of balance.
We need to turn our lives right-side up, living in tune with our inner natures, our bodies, and our natural environments once again. This is the lesson for the 21st century.
Note: I have a chapter on Tools for Living in my book, Healing From Trauma. It includes things like humor, journaling, and nurturing self-talk, all helpful for regulating the nervous system.
P.S. Thank you for reading. Please sign up for my newsletter if you’d like to receive more. If this piece sparks something in you, you can share your thoughts below. I am going to simplify my life and say thanks in advance for your comments and limit my replies.