Lizard Brain Strikes Again
So many are dealing with higher levels of anxiety and depression right now. Most of my clients are experiencing much more anxiety and so am I during these times of COVID-19. Fear is running rampant in our lives and around the world. Anxiety, depression, worry, guilt, anger are all related to the Fear State. The fear state uses that reactionary fight or flight system. I call that part of our brain that runs that system, the lizard brain because it is also known as the “reptilian brain.” This system works similarly in humans, other mammals as well as reptiles. It is a small little walnut size part in our brain that runs this system.
The lizard brain is designed to be reactionary. There isn’t time to use our cognitive brain when our life is truly in danger. We need to react quickly. Thank goodness it works that way because if we see someone running a red light and about to plow into us, we don’t have time to think through all the solutions using our cognitive brain. We need to react immediately. Because it has to react quickly to situations, the lizard brain chooses three responses. It will choose to fight, run or freeze.
When we are triggered, we switch over to that reactionary system and as a result, we choose one of those three responses to handle the situation. If you tend to get angry and get into arguments when triggered, your reactionary system chose the fight response. If you want to get away from the issue, your reactionary mind chose the run response. Perhaps you just walk away and leave the room if there is difficulties. Do you avoid the problem and find something else to do? And, if you can’t seem to focus on anything or procrastinate when you get triggered, that is the freeze response.
What makes it hard to change habits is because we are in this reactionary lizard brain system. It is not easy to access our cognitive brain when we are triggered. First step is to recognize it. It is very unconscious most of the time so becoming more conscious that you have these habits is key. You may recognize it because your body will tell you before your brain will. Where do you feel anxiety? Does your stomach get tight? Shoulders and neck muscles tighten? Jaw clench? More headaches? Heart racing? These are all symptoms. You also may feel pain suddenly in other parts of your body. Those can be “tells” that you are in your fear state and lizard brain is making decisions.
You may realize you are in the fear state because you just went right into the habit that isn’t serving you. Did you use food to calm you down? Alcohol? Were you in a good mood and suddenly get angry with someone? Are you avoiding tackling a project or task? Most know what habits are not serving us to our best and highest interest.
One way to help us when we realize we are triggered is very simple. It is simply breathing. When we are triggered, we breathe more shallow and we usually breathe fairly shallow as a norm anyway. Breathing slowly and fully can help calm yourself so that your thinking brain can re-engage. There are lots of breathing techniques out there. Learning to slow your breathing and take full breaths throughout the day and especially when you feel yourself being triggered is step one in getting out of the lizard brain.
Lizard brain is not the best in making really good decisions. Remember it only has three choices to pick from. Becoming more conscious opens up to so many other ideas and ways of solving problems and dealing with life. I think lizards are actually quite cute, but I don’t want them making my life decisions for me.