Have you ever been riding shotgun and all of the sudden your feet dig into the floorboard as if you’re trying to brake, and you grab the oh shit handle or throw your arms to the dashboard to brace yourself for a potential impact? Yeah, me too!
That my friend is all thanks to your amygdala, which is responsible for your fight/flight/freeze response. Your amygdala senses danger before your cortex has time to process whether or not you’re truly in danger. You could be cruising along, jamming out with the windows down and all of the sudden you panic because you think your driver is going to hit a car which has stopped, so you react only to realize they had it all under control. That was your amygdala sensing potential danger and responding accordingly.
In 2011, I was in a bad car accident in California. Since that accident, I’ve made a terrible passenger because my amygdala likes to protect me A LOT. I am the queen of alerting my husband to pay attention (when he already is) because I think he doesn’t realize the car in front of us has braked or stopped. I constantly grab the oh shit handle, smash my leg into the floorboard, and throw my hands on the dashboard. The panic that sweeps over me is very real.
The reason I respond this way is because a trigger was formed from my accident. When my amygdala senses I may be in an accident, it’s triggered to respond. My adrenaline gets pumping, and my sympathetic nervous system is activated. Even though 99.9% of the time I’m in no apparent danger of getting into an accident, my amygdala doesn’t know that.
If you can relate, the only way to retrain your amygdala is to experience the panic that comes. You can’t think it away or try to distract yourself. That only reinforces it. You have to ride shotgun, let your amygdala activate, and float through the wave of panic. Your only job is to be comfortable.
If you are interested, I am in the process of creating an awesome workshop that’ll dive more into the neuroscience behind anxiety and panic, so stay tuned.