Primitive thinking (the cognition of the amygdala)

The thinking of the amygdala is primitive thinking. We are not the only species involved in thinking. We tend to associate cognition with imagination, language and imagery but the more primitive thinking happens outside our conscious awareness.

There are a number of ways your experiences can trigger the amygdala to create the fight or flight response. You often hear people saying that they get anxiety or panic attacks for no reason, this is not the case.

Everything that happens is cause-and-effect, anxiety is no different. The fact is that you consciously may not be aware of why panic is triggered. I will now give you some scenarios (other than physiological reasons) for the triggering of the flight or fight response.

If you were the victim of trauma, you could become frightened by the location or indeed any element of the situation could trigger panic. Let’s say you were viciously attacked by a dog in the wood, you could develop a fear of dogs and a fear of woods. And not just that, any dominant element of the experience could also be a trigger for panic. For instance, if a pigeon was cooing loudly when the attack was happening, you could develop a fear of pigeons or indeed a fear of birds in general, and so on.

It is important to remember that a witness to trauma is the victim of trauma. The witnessing could be in a real-life situation or indeed an experience through the media. For instance, many people developed a fear of flying after the 9/11 twin towers destruction.

Another example of how a panic attack can be triggered comes from 18-year-old client I treated in private practice. She got a panic attack while attending a lecture at her university.

The lecture had just begun when she got a panic attack that forced to leave the lecture. From my years of experience, I knew that there probably was something different about the lecture hall that frightened the amygdala.

I questioned her on this but she said there was nothing different that she was aware of except that she had a new lecturer. She said as soon as he began to speak she got the panic attack. I then asked her if there was any possible characteristic of this man that could have triggered fear.

She instantly makes the connection that caused the fear and she told me her story. When she was in third grade she had a teacher that scared her, in fact, almost everyone was scared him. Her fear was so bad that there were times she didn’t attend school and she often vomited before going to school.

I then asked her HOW she connected the lecturer with that teacher. She said that they both were from the same location in the country with a distinct accent and their tone of voice was identical. You can now see how the primitive mind can become scared even though you are not consciously aware of any possible danger.

I will give you a scenario where one can develop General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This girl is walking down a side-street at night listening to music on her headphones and checking her messages on her mobile phone when she is attacked from behind and her handbag is taken. She is badly shaken and frightened by the ordeal.

Next morning she is feeling very anxious but realises that this can be normal after what happened the previous night. However, this continues in the days and weeks that pass. She finds that she is on edge no matter where she goes, she constantly feels that she is in some danger.

When a person experiences a dangerous situation, the amygdala will create a response to prevent the person experiencing that danger again. The problem is that it will over-protect and the response may not be logical.

For instance, the amygdala may have concluded that she was attacked because she was not paying attention due to listening on headphones and looking at her mobile phone, so now it drives her to be super-vigilant at all times in case a further attack occurs. The logical response would be to make her super-alert going down side-streets at night or maybe avoid them. Instead, this super-alertness is generalised to every location in which she finds herself.

You now can get the gist of how anxiety and panic are created, the good news is that the amygdala can be retrained as the rational mind is a feeder mind to the amygdala. The Fast Panic Solution program will help you retrain the amygdala and break the cycle of anxiety.

This brings us to rational thinking and it’s influence on anxiety. While the rational mind can influence the amygdala for the better, unfortunately, it can also be the creator of anxiety. We will now look at this a little more.

Rational thinking

The ability to think creatively and logically can be either our liberator or our captor, depending on how effective our thinking is. We live in an era that is dominated by fearful thinking. People have concerns about the “what ifs” in life, where we longer have the ability to live in the moment. Instead, the mind travels in time and often pictures the worse case scenarios about the future.

The problem with the amygdala is that it can’t differentiate between a real experience and a vividly imagined experience, so imagined scenarios can trigger adrenalin release as though scenarios were happening right now. This is why you MUST really get a handle on your thinking.

How cognitive factors influence anxiety

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