Learning: The Amygdala and My Glass Case Of Emotion

I’m an extremely emotional person. There’s this running self-deprecating joke I have that says, “I cry when my shoes come untied.” In public, I do my best to laugh it off to not cause too much worry. But in the comfort of my own home, I find myself dissolving into a puddle of razors.

I can’t keep myself together, but don’t try to help me because you’ll probably get hurt.

And what is the culprit of my disdain? The amygdala.

What Is the Amygdala?

The Amygdala is two almond shaped gray masses in your brain that are a part of the Limbic System.

Limbic System

  • It is part of the nervous system, which plays a huge roll in our emotional health
  • Other parts of the Limbic System are the Hypothalamus and the Hippocampus
  • The formation of memories occurs in the Limbic System
  • It controls your emotional life

 

What Does The Amygdala Do?

  • Manages our emotions and motivations
  • It processes the information and tells our brain what to feel.
  • Determines where memories are stored based on the emotions evoked
  • Involved in the process of fear conditioning
    • Fear conditioning is when we learn to fear something through recurrent experiences
  • Involved in problem-solving, decision making and planning

 

In studies observing brain activity, they found that people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder have overactive amygdala. It is also linked to other high anxiety disorders, and even autism.

What It Looks Like

It’s nice to see pretty pictures of brains with colors all over them, but what does this look like in raw, real life? Well, it’s gritty and uncomfortable.

  • Emotionally Sensitive
    • People with over active amygdala are intensely affected by anything emotional. I wasn’t kidding about my shoe laces. It’s just something that’s hilarious to everyone else. The slightest bit of frustration can send someone with BPD over the edge.
  • Overreactions
    • People with BPD have intense behavior that often doesn’t fit the situation. Being over excited to overly enraged are cases of over active amygdala. And yes, it is exhausting only feeling intense emotions all the time constantly and always suppressing emotional blow ups. Thanks for asking.
  • React For Longer
    • After an emotional blow-up, or feeling any emotions at all, it takes longer for people with Borderline Personality Disorder to cool down. Even after the “I’m Sorry”s and “Everything is going to be okay”s, the intense surging emotion is still pumping through our veins. It’s pumping through our veins about 20% longer, actually.

How To Deal With Over Active Emotions

So what can you do? The house is a mess, the radio is playing that song you just discovered you hated, your trying to cook dinner while your dog is tripping you beneath your feet, you need to pay the mortgage on Thursday but you won’t have the money until sometime next week, your father keeps calling and asking when he can come by and fix the sink, your friend threw you under the bus at work last week and you can’t stop thinking about it, the kids in the living room are arguing over a toy, each stressor keeps piling up and you just can’t do this again.

Not today.

You need a break from everything, from life.

 

You’re exhausted.

Medication

Medication isn’t for everyone, but that isn’t to say it isn’t for you. You have a chemical imbalance in your brain. It is often compared to the diabetic who takes her insulin. Your body is supposed to produce a certain amount of something, and it’s not. Extreme cases can call for anti-depressants and mood stabilizers.

Get in touch with a doctor and explain your symptoms. If anyone in your family takes medication and it works for them, let them know. They now have the ability to find the right medication through genetics as well as fitting you with the right chemical treatment.

One of the hardest parts about seeking help in mental health is the journey through medication some choose to travel. Luckily, they are making it safer and easier every year.

Therapy

Sometimes you just need someone to talk to. Sometimes you just need someone who knows more about you than you might. You have these problems and unanswered questions, and there are people who have devoted their lives to help you. Take advantage of that. You can do it alone, however having help will make it less painful and in most cases more effective.

Develop Coping Strategies

This is something that is easiest to do with a therapist, however, you can try this at home.

  • Be conscious of what is happening in the moment
    • Be aware that it is your brain that is reacting to the situation, not necessarily you. And your brain is being a little ridiculous right now, and you don’t need to buy into it. The more you recognize your emotions as a separate entity, the more they become one and the easier they are to manage. Not control, but manage.
  • Change your negative thoughts into positive
    • Okay! There we go! We can all go home! Right? There’s the big secret, just be positive. But it’s truly effective. Consciously taking your thoughts and changing them will help you redirect your brain’s way of thinking. You can train your brain. Though many mental disorders are hereditary, a lot comes from the environment. This means an outside force changed the way your brain behaves. And you can take that control back.
  • In the moment, compare
    • When you are going through an outburst, and you are overwhelmed with what is happening all around you, take a second to compare it to something drastically more terrible. This isn’t to guilt you into thinking “Well, other people have it worse,” because that way of thinking is toxic. If that were the true way to think, only one person on this planet would be allowed to fret. But thinking of starving children compared to your broken heel will trigger your brain to focus on the empathy of others, and less on the frustration of your woes.
  • Breathe
    • No, seriously. I know we are all tired of being told to take deep breaths and count to ten, but it does help. What this does is cleanses your brain with a fresh coat of oxygen, hurrying the cooldown process.
  • Practice Mindfulness
    • Mindfulness is the act of being fully present and not letting your emotions sway you. It’s a beautiful practice that involves meditation and breathing, but you can also do little bits of mindfulness throughout your day.
      • Take a moment to smell your coffee in the morning and appreciate it.
      • Stop and think while you are around people you love and enjoy being in their presence. Think of the laughs, the facial expressions, the mannerisms you’ve come to love
      • When your favorite song plays on the radio, stop what you’re doing and sing along. If the sun is shining, feel the warmth on your skin. If you are in a bakery, stop to smell the fresh bread while you totally nail the chorus

What Can Our Loved Ones Do

From Loving Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder by Shari Manning

  • Talk about it, ask what happened
  • Don’t tell your loved one they are over reacting.
  • Don’t judge your loved one
  • Try to relate in some way. Find something in the situation you can relate to and be open about it.
  • Don’t try to solve the problem, but ask if you can help get through this hard moment
  • If they say no, give them space. Remember their emotions last up to 20% longer.

Living with Borderline Personality Disorder can be an exhausting experience, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one. Having a good support system is the only reason I’m still here. If it weren’t for the loved ones around me, I don’t think I would have been strong enough. Don’t live this life alone. Talk to your family, talk to a therapist. Your life could depend on it.

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